Omri van Zyl. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Omri van Zyl. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

A RECORD R15bn to R20bn could be needed to see SA farmers through the worst drought since 1992, when they made do with only R3bn in relief funding.

Agri SA executive director Omri van Zyl said the situation remained dire, and had now prompted the need for humanitarian assistance for those affected. "Farmers are battling (a) pretty serious situation, one that will have national consequences," he said. A lack of intervention could compound the economic and social effect on farmers and the country, added Mr van Zyl.

Agri SA was seeking donations after helping to establish a drought fund while also exploring commercial means to ensure that farmers had access to credit that would allow for planting when more favourable conditions returned.

The farmers’ body was participating in a task team to formulate a report that could inform further talks.

"In 1992, we needed R3bn to manage us through that drought, in real terms we (may now need) between R15bn and R20bn," said Mr van Zyl.

In November, the government added R96.6m to the R352.6m set aside to support the country’s drought relief efforts. The additional funding was due to be used to purchase 45 tankers for water distribution to affected areas, borehole drilling and rehabilitation and water conservation, among other activities.

Mr van Zyl’s comments came amid indications that farm workers could also be taking strain. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in Mpumalanga expressed outrage on Tuesday over police conduct during a confrontation with striking farm workers on Monday.

Cosatu will be seeking a meeting with Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza regarding police conduct that saw the arrest of nine farm workers, with dozens injured, Cosatu Mpumalanga provincial secretary Fidel Mlombo said on Tuesday.

About 3,000 farm workers have been on strike at the Mbaba Estates banana farm since November 4, demanding recognition as part of the Food and Allied Workers Union.

SAPS Mpumalanga spokesman Brigadier Selvy Mohlala could not immediately confirm the arrests and said by on Tuesday the authorities had not been made aware of any allegations of police brutality.

Any allegations would be handed to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, he said.

The incident comes amid a prolonged dry spell that is expected to devastate crops.

Grain SA research co-ordinator Petru Fourie said it was difficult to tell what quantity of maize would be produced this year, but prospects for the year were bleak.

January to March are the most important rain periods, with warnings that the continued lack of rain will exacerbate the effect of an existing shortage of feed during winter.