Poor forgotten in drought reporting

28 March 2017 - 17:06 By Roxanne Henderson

The government has failed to respond to the country's national drought appropriately and the poor are bearing the burden of its dereliction.

“I don't want to speak more about this poverty and drought because it turns me back to something. It makes want to blame my government‚ which is not good.”

These are the words of David Baloyi‚ an emerging Limpopo farmer‚ who feels let down by government in the wake of the country's El Nino induced drought.

The voices of Baloyi and his colleagues are among those presented in a drought report by organisation Oxfam‚ released on Tuesday‚ titled A Harvest of Dysfunction: Rethinking the Approach to Drought‚ its Causes and Impacts in South Africa.

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The report found that the voices of the poor‚ and particularly women‚ were absent from the drought narrative that dominated media reports and government statements.

Baloyi has been farming orchids‚ white maize and cattle with some success in tough conditions‚ but when the drought hit he found it increasingly difficult to keep his head above water.

“In 2016 we lost much in cash crops and livestock. We went to the Department [of Agriculture] for help and feeds‚ because 60% of our cattle died‚ but no help came.

“Now the rain has come but our cattle is recovering with disease. There's no vet. We cannot manage to get a doctor from the Department‚ so we must pull out the little that we have.”

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Neighbouring Baloyi in Limpopo is farmer Daniel Khosa‚ who said that the government's drought interventions‚ such as the provision of cattle feed to farmers‚ were insufficient.

“We are the emerging poor farmers and we didn't get anything from that. At the end‚ at grassroots‚ we are not receiving anything.”

The report found that a narrow definition of drought limited the range of necessary relief offered by the government to the poor.

Its researchers also found that leaders in government used religious language when they spoke of the crisis‚ asking for rain in prayer and describing rain as a blessing‚ which fuels the idea that the drought cannot be managed or prepared for.

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“If we see it as a meteorological event – as rainfall that we cannot control – what we do not see is that it is also a humanitarian disaster with major impacts‚” said one of the report's researchers Donna Hornby.

“We came to the conclusion that the drought has been dysfunctional because it was badly managed‚ not because of rainfall.”

The report also found that the drought and unregulated food markets had resulted in price increases that pushed people into acute hunger.

“If a single finding can be made from this research‚ it would be that the drought is a shock that lays bare the existing fault lines in society. Layer by layer‚ it strips away the resilience of those people and households who had little to begin with‚” Hornby said.

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Oxfam has called on the government to declare the drought a national disaster and implement a universal disaster grant to respond to escalating food prices.

It has also called for the rethinking of the agriculture sector in water-scarce South Africa. Small-scale farmers should be encouraged to keep smaller animals like sheep‚ goats and chickens during drought periods and breeding cattle once the drought is over‚ it said.

“South Africa is a dry country. It's prone to recurrent droughts. With climate change and climate volatility‚ drought is the new normal‚" Hornby said.

- TMG Digital