Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Rain may have fallen‚ but farming in the Western Cape is still reeling from the impact of the drought.

Job losses totaling 30‚000‚ an economic loss of R5.9bn, and a drop in exports of up to 20% were reported on Wednesday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) at an agricultural producers’ event in Robertson.

"Many hectares of productive fruit trees and vineyards have been removed ahead of the normal replanting schedule due to the lack of available water, as well as to prevent disease and pests from spreading‚" said WWF.

With 270‚000ha under irrigation‚ agriculture used 43% of the water in the Western Cape‚ but WWF said farms in the province were the most efficient in the country. They used 5‚874m³ of water per irrigated hectare‚ compared with 9‚913m³ in Mpumalanga.

WWF said the Western Cape was the country’s leading farm exporter. "In this province alone‚ agriculture sustains a R530bn economy. This sector employs about 180‚000 workers‚ while the agri-processing sector adds another 126‚000 jobs to the economy. Together‚ these sectors employ 15% of the provincial labour force."

On average‚ farms in the province had been forced to cut water use by 60% since 2017. "Water restrictions varied from 50% in the Breede Valley and 60% in the Berg River and Riviersonderend region, to 87% in the Lower Olifants River Valley [Clanwilliam‚ Klawer and Vredendal] towards the end of the past irrigation season over the dry summer months‚" WWF said.

"As a result‚ there has been a significant decline in overall output as farmers prioritise crops with higher profit margins‚ such as fruit‚ and choose to abandon vegetables and other crops. A multi-year crisis like this one can also put pressure on future production seasons. Hence farmers will have to continue to find ways to reduce use and innovate."

Some of these innovations were already working‚ WWF said. "Near Ceres‚ for instance‚ fruit farmers have shown that water security can be improved by tackling shared water risks upstream‚ such as removing water-thirsty alien invasive vegetation‚ combined with doing education drives with the surrounding communities downstream.

"In the Boland and Elgin regions‚ many farmers are actively engaged in water stewardship initiatives facilitated through their local conservancy or fire protection agency‚ which has resulted in fuller dams and a decrease in fire risk during the drier summer seasons."