Coronavirus lockdown hampers SA’s farming activities

The foreclosure restrictions were creating logistical difficulties for small farmers, who relied on their farms as their main source of income. Photo: Denene Erasmus

South Africa’s national lockdown aimed at reducing the spread of the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is already wreaking havoc on farmers.

Dr Vuyo Mahlati, president of the African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA), praised President Cyril Ramaphosa and the government for their swift action to contain the disease.

However, she expressed concern about the impact the restrictions would have on smallholder farmers, especially in terms of logistics, delivery of agricultural supplies and access to markets.

“Farmers are already struggling to make ends meet due to drought conditions in various parts of the country, in combination with the negative impact of foot-and-mouth disease. [outbreak] on sales and production. Everyone expected this year to bring welcome relief, but it’s getting more and more unlikely [due to] the way things are now.

She added that many small farmers were single mothers, whose farms were their only source of household income and food security.

“I understand why the schools have been closed, but it will be difficult for these parents and farm workers to work on the farms with their children. In fact, on large farms this will only spread the risk of infection from school to farm. “

Various regions also faced water shortages, making it difficult to practice preventive “disinfection protocols”.

In addition to driving up costs, face masks and disinfectants have also been sold in most rural areas, leaving farmers, both commercial and small-scale, stranded without adequate protection for themselves and their workers. , said Mahlati.

On the positive side, she said AFASA had negotiated with Minister of Agriculture, Agrarian Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza to further involve municipalities in the supply chain of smallholder production, in the goal of strengthening smallholder production and improving food security. These negotiations began even before the pandemic reached South Africa.

“The idea is to get the municipalities to source their supplies from small farmers and then create strategic points in the municipalities where food can be stored and from which it can be distributed. Plans to do so are already in place in some municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal, ”she said.

Annette Steyn, DA MP, said she had been inundated with phone calls from farmers and industry players seeking advice and solutions.

One of the biggest challenges was created by an error in the wording of the original foreclosure rules, which have since been corrected, she said.

“The error led to a misunderstanding, preventing farmers from moving workers and their products between districts and provinces.”

She advised farmers to be pragmatic and level-headed during this time, so that they can minimize the impact of the restrictions on their businesses and their own health.

“Four farmers in the Free State have already contracted the disease, so take precautions to minimize [the risk to yourself and your workers]. [Grant] leave to those who are afraid and work with only the necessary number of workers.

She warned that failure to act could lead to a situation in which an entire farm could be put on lockdown.

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