WHEN drought and massive heatwaves hit the country in January, farmer Anna Chauke lost six hectares of her crops and was forced out of business.
The heatwaves sucked the Nwanedi River dry, and destroyed her tomatoes and beans, destined for the national markets and informal traders.
The river, on the north-eastern part of Limpopo, is Chauke’s only source of farming water.
Heartbroken and emotionally devastated, the mother of four folded her tent and went back to her home village of Malale outside Musina, about 10 kilometres away from the farm.
She lost her only source of income, lost her interest in farming and had to let go of her 10 full-time employees.
At the height of her farming career, Chauke made enough money to feed and educate her children, as well as supply national markets.
“This drought has crippled me, even when we are planting irrigation pipes are bursting because the sun is too hot,” Chauke said.
While the farmer initially vowed never to return to her farm anytime soon, she reconsidered her decision after the Limpopo Department of Agriculture offered her and others seeds and equipment as part of its multi-million drought relief package meant to boost food production.
Enticed by the sudden heavy downpours and free seeds, Chauke went back to her land alongside three of her former employees.
African Times visited her the farm.
Chauke was hopeful of taking her farm back to its glory days, but her concerns remained.
“We are trying to plant again, but I don’t have hope that we will be able to farm again, that water is drying up again,” Chauke said.
While some farmers have gone back to their farms, millions of hectares of land remain barren across the province as most farmers battle to raise funds to resume farming.
Thousands of seasonal workers are also left jobless because there is nothing to harvest.
Chauke’s worst fear now is the dwindling water levels at Nwanedi River. “There is little water in the river, and it will soon vanish if it does not rain again.”
However, some farmers like Piet Mukwevho believe that the government’s drought relief aid was neither well planned nor implemented.
Farmers were given seeds without reliable water supply, Mukwevho says.
“Our problem is that still there is no water, we don’t have any option but to plant because they gave us seeds,” said Mukwevho, who was forced to watch his maize crops being burnt to ashes by the heatwaves.
“I was hoping that I will be harvesting sixty tonnes, but we did not get anything.”
The African Farmers Union of South Africa (AFASA) in Limpopo said the impact on livestock farmers was minimised in late February and March after rainfall resuscitated grazing land.
“The situation is better on livestock farmers. There is some food and grass for livestock to feed on,” said AFASA Limpopo chairperson Tshianeo Mathidi.
However, he said most farmers were reluctant to risk their little resources by resuming full-scale farming without any water guarantees.
Mathidi added: “It is scary, no farmers are willing to go on full scale. It is a game. You can harvest or lose.”
Sipho Dikgale, spokesman for the Limpopo Agriculture Department, said the department was aware of the difficulties faced by Chauke and other farmers.
“It rained out of planting season, the drought impact has not changed, and as the department our disaster relief has been exhausted,” said Dikgale.
The government has begun erecting boreholes on the banks of the Nwanedi River in a bid to amplify its drought relief programme.
However, this may be a case of too little too late for crippled farmers like Chauke.