21 Dec

South African Drought Slams Everything From Grapes to Lambs

Sheep farmers around Williston, a rural town in South Africa’s drought-hit Northern Cape, face a tough choice: either truck in costly feed to keep their animals alive or slaughter much of their stock.

After at least three years of dryness in the country’s largest province, many have chosen the second option.

“Everyone has cut back their flocks of sheep to the bare minimum needed to start again when it rains,’’ said local farmer Willem Symington. “There are old men in their eighties saying they’ve never seen anything like this, and they’ve seen a lot of droughts.’’

While much of South Africa is enjoying good summer rains, its two western provinces have been hit by a persistent drought. In the far southwest, taps in Cape Town, the country’s second-largest city, are forecast to run dry as soon as March. Producers of crops ranging from peaches to wheat are coming under pressure and winemakers estimate the grape harvest could shrink to the smallest in 13 years.

“It’ll take many years to recover because it’s affected the entire value chain,’’ said Christo van der Rheede, who runs the drought program at the country’s biggest farmers’ group, AgriSA. “There are places which haven’t seen rain, or seen so little rain as to make no difference, for four years.’’

To be sure, the Northern and Western Cape only represent a part of South Africa’s agricultural production and exports. The country’s corn crop, which reached a recordthis year, comes mainly from the Free State and Mpumalanga provinces. Citrus fruit is largely produced in the east of the country, said Wandile Sihlobo, head agricultural economist at South Africa’s Agricultural Business Chamber.

Agriculture has become an increasingly important contributor to South Africa’s economy, growing by an annualized 44 percent in the third quarter, and helped pull the country out of a recession in the three months through June.

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