South African Farmers May Seek International Aid as Drought Hits

  • Agri SA will complete assessment of aid needed in January
  • Estimated 20 billion rand of drought assistance is required

South African farmers may seek international aid as the worst drought in decades threatens a regional food shortage, according to a farmers’ group.

Farmers need as much as 20 billion rand ($1.27 billion), an estimate that will be revised after a more detailed industry assessment is completed at the end of this month, Omri van Zyl, executive director at Agri SA, said in a phone interview.

We need to look at direct assistance to farmers "just to keep the doors open on their businesses," said van Zyl, adding that support is needed to provide feed and help with credit in the next planting season. “It’s a food security issue.”

South Africa, which provides more than 60 percent of the wider region’s food, is suffering the least rainfall since 1992 amid an El Nino that is one of the three strongest since 1950. The impact on grazing and food crops is now “cutting into the muscle" as it spreads to commercial farmers from small holders, van Zyl said.

Assistance will initially be sought from the government, which has already provided aid to small farmers. South Africa in November added 96.6 million rand to 352.6 million rand set aside to support the nation’s drought-relief efforts, Business Day reported on Wednesday.

"From a regional perspective, we’re going to look at donor agencies,” according to van Zyl, who said such a move would be unprecedented.

"In the region, the commercial farming sector has been a stable source of quality and nutritious food to the whole region and if we are battling a bit here because of the drought, the rest will definitely follow,” he said.

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