Farming fears as Day Zero nears

In a bid to save water, only 30% of Vorentoe Boerdery's arable land is being used.

While residents panic about what will happen if Day Zero arrives, the city’s farmers have already been feeling the devastation of the severe drought.

At the Vorentoe Boerdery, Kuils River’s last vegetable farm, the harvest will again be reduced this year as they sow only 60% of their crop.

Growing lettuce, broccoli, lentils, peas, peppers, cabbage and carrots, the farm is only using 30% of its arable land as another drought mitigation measure.

When Northern News visited Vorentoe Boerdery in March last year, owner Johannes Visser was already worried that they would have to close the farm.

They still employ 120 people but again have not taken on seasonal workers. Before the drought started, they employed 180 people from the surrounding community. They are now facing the prospect of letting more staff go.

“What else can we do if there will be no business?” said Mr Visser, who has been farming there for 36 years.

He worries about all the dependants who also rely on the farmworkers’ income. He said they come from an area which already had a high unemployment rate among the youth.

“I can now imagine how many people will be affected in total,” said Mr Visser.

“This is the worst drought we are experiencing in my entire life as a farmer.”

His fears that there would not be sufficient winter rainfall were realised.

The farm also produces vegetables favoured by the Zimbabwean and Malawian expatriate communities, such as covo vegetables, mustard leaves and the viscous fibre vegetables.

This has helped some traders make a living as they can supply their communities with what they want.

“We produce traditional vegetables for these residents according to their needs and tastes,” said Mr Visser

“The farm has the running cost and capital to service, and now with the business unusual situation, sustainability is going to be tough,” he said.

“It is unfortunate that both the provincial and national government dismally failed to come up with proactive measures that would’ve lessened this water crisis.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of Capetonians gathered at the Cape Town Civic Centre, on Sunday January 28, to call on government to take responsibility for the water crisis.

The protest came just days ahead of today’s deadline for public comment on the City of Cape Town’s draft Water Amendment By-law.

Representatives of about 70 civil organisations united under the banner of the Water Crisis Coalition.

National Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane was present to hear the coalition’s concerns.

In a presentation entitled “Western Cape Water Status and Drought” which she gave to the Cape Town Press Club on Sunday, Ms Mokonyane acknowledges that the province is experiencing the worst drought in 400 years.

She said the implementation of water restrictions followed the directive by the National Department of Water and Sanitation requiring urban users to reduce their water usage by 45% and agricultural users to reduce consumption by 60%.

Ms Mokoyane said: “This is unfortunately not happening as both urban and agricultural users have continued to use more water than planned for, under constrained conditions.”

Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services, said in light of the recent water crisis, the proposed draft Water Amendment By-law had been opened for public comment early last month.

The existing water by-law, amended in 2015, looked at, among other things, the change in Cape Town’s demographics and associated water demand scenarios and water wise strategy.

In 2015 the by-law was amended to ensure that the City could adequately monitor and control water-related services and also oversee the plumbing industry. However, due to the impact of the drought, the by-law requires further amendments.

Key proposals now include:

* Reducing the demand on the municipal water supply by expanding the regulations on alternative water use and efficient plumbing fittings;

* Enhancing enforcement of the by-law in relation to plumbers within the metro;

* And strengthening the requirements for sub-metering on properties that have multiple accommodation units.

The City established its Disaster Operations Centre (DOC) on Monday to carry out its Water Disaster Plan, which will take effect in the event of Day Zero, now expected to be on Monday April 16.

“We will shut off supply to taps when our dams reach a collective level of 13.5%.

“In order to avoid this, we must reduce current consumption to 450 Megalitres of total consumption a day. This equates to 50 litres per person per day,” the City said in a statement.

They said it would be the task of the DOC to manage the water collection points.

“Water tankers will be used to deliver water to vulnerable groups such as old age homes and care facilities,” the statement read.

“SAPS and the SANDF have confirmed that they will assist the City to secure the water collection points. The deployment will include inner perimeter security as well as outer perimeter security. There will be static deployment as well as rotational vehicle patrols.”