As Benedict Baloyi opens his farm gate to let his animals out into the adjacent barren fields he looks to the heavens with worry etched on his face – there are no signs of rain and the persisting drought has severely depleted his livestock.
Some of Baloyi’s emaciated animals have already succumbed to the harsh conditions. Although the animals get to feed and drink from containers, the persistent drought has resulted in as many as 45 of his cattle dying in the last two months.
Baloyi started farming almost two decades ago, and animal husbandry has been his livelihood. However, the drought has left his animals in such a terrible condition he can not even sell them.
These days he counts his losses daily.
Baloyi has had to buy fodder to feed his severely depleted livestock – Only 15 cattle remain.
Dead animals can be seen strewn around Baloyi’s land. The decomposing carcasses cause an awful stench and attract lots of flies. It is obvious that this situation poses a health hazard.
It has not rained properly since 2015 and the nearby river has dried up – all that remains is sand.
“I have lost hope that the remaining 15 will survive, because they are now feeding on alien plant,” said Baloyi.
He and other farmers in the area claim the government has not done enough to secure grazing land and water resources for them.
Another farmer Simon Chauke said poor environmental management accompanied by drought has worsened the situation. A year ago, Chauke had 156 cattle, but today he is left with only 40.
“Some of our grazing land has been contaminated or invaded by invasive species,” said Chauke, adding that his animals can not feed on such plant species.
Like many farmers in the province, Chauke and Baloyi are using their savings to buy fodder and supplementary vitamins for their livestock.
Many farmers in the Mopani and Vhembe districts, which have also been affected by the drought, are also in urgent need of aid. The situation is so dire some farmers have resorted to harvesting grass on the shoulder of national and regional highways and roads.
Last week, the Limpopo provincial executive committee approved government’s move to rescue struggling farmers.
Provincial government spokesperson, Phuti Seloba, said government will be spend R10 million to aid farmers.
“The department of agriculture should utilise an amount not exceeding R10 million from their equitable share for drought relief interventions,” said Seloba.
The drought has put government and farmers’ ability to manage grazing camps and livestock population under a spotlight.
Agriculture spokesperson Selby Makgotho said the provincial government was encouraging farmers to reduce livestock to manageable numbers.
“If it does not rain in the next two months the situation will be worse,” Makgotho told African News Agency (ANA).
In Vhembe District north-east of Polokwane, farmers said they had taken to burying their dead cattle in their yards.
Farmers believe that the river was contaminated by sewerage discharged into the river.
African Farmers Association of South Africa’s Tshianeo Mathidi said while crop farmers might have suffered, it is worse for livestock farmers who will take years to recover.
“It is bad, there is no pasture, rivers are drying up and some of our members has given up,” said Mathidi.
He said livestock farmers had little room to escape the wrath of climate change.
As for Baloyi he continues to look to the heavens for salvation.