Cape Town – Thousands of jobs would have to be shed in the agriculture industry in the Western Cape if the devastating water crisis continued, the provincial standing committee on economic opportunities, agriculture and tourism has heard.

Despite interventions by all three spheres of government, the looming job losses would be a further blow to the drought-stricken sector that had been under a worsening dry spell for the past two years.

The potential decrease in employment opportunities, which could affect as many as 17 000 jobs, came as farmers were asked to cut their water usage by at least 30% in order to increase quantities available for residential use.

Western Cape head of agriculture Joyene Isaacs confirmed the figure during a committee meeting this week.

“The current water restrictions imposed on the agricultural sector by national government might be the correct measure at the moment, but they place a heavy burden on one of the biggest employment sectors in the province,” committee chairperson Beverley Schäfer said on Wednesday.

The Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), which said its members were battling job losses in the poultry sector, among others, said the high number of agricultural workers who could soon face unemployment was “distressing”.

MEC for agriculture Alan Winde steered away from numbers, but acknowledged the 30% water restriction “could lead to less seasonal job opportunities in the region”.

“The extent of the negative economic impact will depend on the quantity and quality of fruit produced under the water-stressed conditions. It would mainly affect the citrus industry, as most other fruit crops have already been harvested,” Winde said.

Farmers in the West Coast and Central Karoo districts had been hardest hit, he confirmed.

“Many farmers have been forced to sell their animals, and are struggling to feed their core herds. We have re-allocated funds to support farmers to buy fodder for their animals.”

Agri Western Cape’s Nic Opperman said: “Producers in the province’s extensive farming areas are still in dire need of drought support. Very little rain has fallen to date in the summer rainfall region of the Western Cape and producers in the Oudtshoorn area are also running into trouble…

“Some areas in the Langkloof are also critically dry, with potential negative impacts on especially apple producers in the area.”

Winde said more than R48 million had been made available since March last year to help farmers deal with the drought.


Cape Argus/Iol News



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