Farmers in the Koue Bokkeveld region of the Western Cape have received less than a third of their average winter rainfall — and may soon have to stop watering orchards.

That’s according to one of the area’s most prominent farmers‚ Fanie van der Merwe‚ who warned on Thursday of dire consequences if significant rain does not fall in the next two months. In the absence of rain he would need to remove fruit buds from marginal orchards as there would be no water to irrigate the trees.

"Two years ago we improved our irrigation and moisture-measuring technology‚ so we are being as efficient as we possibly can be. Typical annual rainfall in our area is about 650mm, but so far we have only had 180mm‚" Van der Merwe said.

He added that food security across the province could soon be at risk due to the debilitating drought. "The last really dry period was in 2003-04, but this is far worse. We are people of faith and pray that God will provide rain, but we must also apply our logic that the situation is very serious‚ and in the next few weeks growers will have to make hard decisions about which crops to grub up and which to irrigate."

Western Cape dams are 27% full‚ well below last year’s levels; the City of Cape Town’s dams are at 29%.

Environment MEC Anton Bredell said further stringent water restrictions may be required to safeguard supply. "We did not get the rain we were expecting in June. In July we received an average amount of rain for the period. What we needed this season was above-average rainfall. This has not been the case‚" Bredell said in a statement last week. "While we have August lying ahead with promise of some relief‚ it’s quite clear that dam levels are going to struggle to recover.

"On the demand side‚ usage must be managed downwards even further‚ while on the supply side we are working furiously on possible solutions that include groundwater extraction and desalination. As always‚ a major constraint remains budget.

"We continue to engage all relevant stakeholders in this regard‚ including the national Department of Water and Sanitation‚ where the constitutional responsibility for water resides."

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