The people of the Eastern Cape are in for a nasty surprise this festive season, due to a high increase in food prices. With a total population of 6.5 million mouths to feed, limited supplies and high demand, citizens are expected to fork out large sums of money to sustain themselves.
The farmers of the Eastern Cape are in a dire crisis due to a lack of funds, a frightful drought and the immense debt of R150 billion, which will have severe implications on its citizens.
According to Agri Eastern Cape president Doug Stern, the government only grants the Land Bank Farmers R400 million for farmers in need, yet spends billions on state-owned enterprises, which has caused the debt of South African farmers to rise significantly, from R100 billion in the space of a few years to a staggering R150 billion.
It is believed that in addition to this the increase in debt in the Eastern Cape is largely due to the harsh drought, extreme temperatures, strong winds and heavy frosts.
Wildfires in the north-eastern part of the province are a major contributing factor of the food price increase. It has damaged 60 000 hectares of veld, caused the loss of livestock and demolished infrastructure.
Despite the well-waited rain, the farmers still lost 5000 small livestock because of the recent cold spell.
The Eastern Cape farmers are unfortunately being forced to lessen the number of animals even going as far as slaughtering their breeding herds and flocks.
Stern said, "Once the drought has broken, farmers will be holding back animals to rebuild their flocks and herds resulting in fewer animals to market, which could make meat prices rise even further."
This particular requirement of farming is considered an essential part of the food production process. It is crucial for the growth of crops, as plant roots do not grow well in dry soil.
The irrigation systems in the surrounding areas of Hankey and Patensie are going through major problems, due to the low water levels of only 13% in the Kouga dam.
According to Stern, the Langkloof dams are empty, resulting in the apple trees not receiving water during the blossoming process, which could cause a considerable loss.
Despite the contributing factors to the increase in food prices, an even greater problem will occur in 2018. Labour costs will increase next year due to the government wanting to force national minimum wage, despite the fact that wage negotiations will not be concluded by then, which will cause the Eastern Cape farmers to take a severe knock.
Although the Eastern Cape is facing challenging times, Stern is hopeful that the farmers will get through this crisis. They have experienced a 40% increase over the past 20 years, despite the drought and dwindling number of farmers.