Disaster relief for Western Cape farmers urgently needed


The Western Cape Department of Agriculture must urgently intervene and declare flood-affected areas in the province a disaster area. It is of key importance that funding and support is made available to affected farmers and communities as soon as possible, says the Citrus Growers Association of South Africa (CGA).

The call comes after the department released an updated report on the estimated financial cost of the flood damage on Monday. RNews previously reported that heavy rain occurred widely across the Western Cape in mid-June and led to heavy flooding.

An initial assessment carried out at the end of last month calculated damage to primary agriculture on the West Coast, the Cape Wineland district and the Overberg and the extensive damage to riverbanks, irrigation equipment, private roads and vineyards, as well as fruit orchards that were submerged in mud confirmed at R1.053 billion.

According to the department, this is a credible, although conservative, estimate. The full extent of the losses has yet to be determined.

The Citrus Growers Association welcomes the department’s adjustment on the estimated damage and has written to Ivan Meyer, the Western Cape MEC for agriculture, to thank him for the department’s prompt response to the flooding.

“The association has also offered its help, if necessary, to declare the areas a disaster zone as soon as possible. This is so that aid funds can be quickly channeled and damaged infrastructure can be repaired and replaced,” says Loftus Marais, spokesperson for the association.

“The citrus industry plays an important role in the economy of the Western Cape. In the province, more than 20 million containers of citrus are exported per season. This is why it is important to continue the shipment of citrus without any hindrance as soon as possible.”

The Cederberg local municipality, home to a large number of citrus growers, was particularly hard hit by the flooding.

According to Marais, the damage in the Citrusdal valley amounts to around R55 000 per hectare of citrus, with a loss of almost 20% to early cultivar rusts. About 60% of the early cultivars had already been harvested when the worst rains fell.

“The floodwaters caused an overall estimated damage of almost R500 million to producers in the valley.”

Abrie van Zyl, a citrus farmer on the farm Middelpos in Citrusdal, has damage to his farm amounting to around R10 million.

He says the flooding and the damage it caused to his farming was a tremendous shock.

“You feel so powerless to see how the flood waters wash away your time, effort and money within a few hours. However, you cannot stop nature. You just have to never stop making plans,” says Van Zyl.

He says the floods tested the community’s determination during harvest time.

“Our main priority was to keep things going and harvest good quality fruit. We got extra hands for that. We have worked incredibly hard and we are proud that most of the operations in the valley are now back on schedule.”

The farm houses 50 permanent farm workers and Van Zyl uses the services of around 150 seasonal workers every year.

The flooding caused a two-week delay in the harvest and shipment of citrus fruits. Due to the tireless efforts of farmers and farm workers, they have caught up with these backlogs and things are back on schedule, says Marais.