By Neo Bodumela

JOHANNESBURG, April 19 South African Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Bheki Cele says the government will continue to help farmers to mitigate the effects of the drought which has hit the country.

He gave the assurance when meeting farmers in Hartswater in Northern Cape Province as part of the government’s national Imbizos (dialogue meetings) being held throughout the country.

During his visit to the province, Cele met farmers to gauge the impact of the drought and other matters affecting them.

Cele emphasized that small and emerging farmers would continue to be the focal point of drought relief efforts in the country as they were the hardest hit by the drought.

“The point that we would like to emphasize all the time (is that) our entry point was small farmers, those that when they lose 15 (hectares), they have lost everything,” he said.

“There are those that have got 3,000 (hectares) and when they lose 15 (hectares) it is not everything. Almost a billion Rand (about 68.14 million US dollars) have been put in by different governments dealing with this scourge of drought and we are hopeful that soon the rains will come.”

Northern Cape Province Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Agriculture and Land Reform Norman Shushu said the provincial government needed more than 190 million Rand over the next three months to remedy the situation.

“We have submitted a request for the next three months to provide drought relief to the extent of 65 million Rand per month for the next three months. We are hoping that that will be actualised and we are grateful that we have a disaster management strategy which has stood us in good stead to mitigate the impact of drought in the province.”

Farmers attending the Imbizo say they are still struggling with the effects of drought. They also highlighted stock theft as a growing problem.

“We do not have water and we are struggling a lot. We pump our water with our engines and if government can assist us then maybe we can go forward,” said one of the farmers.

Cele donated machinery to emerging farmers in the Hartswater area but emphasized that mechanisation must not eat into job creation on farms.