Only 15% of South Africa is suitable for crops

26 May 2017 – South Africa has no more than 15 percent of land that can be used for crop production due to low rainfall and poor soil, agriculture minister Senzeni Zokwana said on Wednesday.
Covering 1.2-million square km of land, South Africa is self-sufficient in virtually all major agricultural products but it uses 50 percent of its water for irrigation.
This problem is worsening however, with the drought in the Western Cape recently being declared a disaster. This follows a trend however. South Africa suffered its driest year on record in 2015 according to the national weather service. The current drought which has damaged crops and hit economic growth shows no sign of abating.

Western Cape drought has already caused a $38m loss in grapes

26 May 2017 – The Provincial disaster declaration will be used as a further motivation to request drought relief funding from the National Government.

In March, the Western Cape Department of Agriculture estimated that R96 million was needed to support farmers in drought affected areas for five months.
Alan Winde, Minister of Economic Opportunities, said stock farmers, who farm with livestock, and irrigation farmers, who use irrigation systems to water their crops, have been among the worst affected.
“We’ve seen a decline in the volume of wine grapes harvested, in part due to a lack of irrigation water. This will result in an estimated R500 million loss in that industry.”
“Current water restrictions for irrigation farmers vary from 30% to 100% in the Berg/Riviersonderend water system. These restrictions can have a serious impact on the crop yields in 2017/18. It means very little water will be available for the very important post-harvest irrigation period. During post-harvest irrigation, water is needed to move the fertiliser into the soil in preparation for the next crop.”
Minister Winde said the Western Cape Department of Agriculture had allocated R80 million for drought relief through reprioritisation of the equitable share budget since 2015/16. These funds have supported farmers with the purchasing of fodder for their animals.
“During the irrigation season we also provided irrigators with near real time data on the actual crop water use and water shortages experienced by their crops through the FruitLook project. Farmers can access accurate information on the water needs of their crops, field by field, at any given time. Using only satellite data and weather station data, we can tell farmers how much water their crops used in the previous week and whether the crops experienced any water deficits.”

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