Small businesses that are still reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic and last year’s civil unrest in KwaZulu-Natal, are now counting the costs of recent flooding and the destruction of infrastructure in the province. SMMEs across all economic sectors have been devastated by a series of man-made and natural catastrophes over the last two years.
The latest of these are the deadly floods that have claimed the lives of more than 440 people and left billions of rand in damages. Many of these businesses are now in peril, with the government announcing this week a provincial state of disaster. According to a preliminary report released on Wednesday by the SA Farmers Development Association (Safda), the damage has so far cost farmers more than R91-million, which includes road, crop and land damage.
Safda CEO Dr Siyabonga Madlala warned that farmers would not be able to take their produce to market until roads and bridges were repaired. “Many farms experienced severe damages to access roads as well as infield roads. Bridges collapsed, making driving into the farms and extracting produce impossible,” he said.
“This poses a serious threat which will last beyond the (rainy) season. When the rain is over, mills will open and farmers (will) be expected to deliver their cane produce from crushing. This will not be possible before the collapsed farm bridges and roads are repaired.” Madlala was referring specifically to sugarcane farming, which is a backbone of the agricultural sector in KwaZulu-Natal. He also noted that farmers now had to replant as soil erosion had resulted in the decimation of crops.
The Safda preliminary report revealed that waterlogging has been experienced by most farmers, resulting in damage to the root and leaching of inputs for farmers who had already put fertilizer and chemicals on their crops. “To date, we have recorded a total of 1537.4 hectares of cane and cash crops having been eroded,” Madlala said.
“It would cost an estimated R32,000 of replanting per hectare, which means that a total of R49,196,800 worth of replanting is needed as almost all allocated fields need to be replanted as a result of waterlogging killing the roots.” Madlala also said that farmers reported losses on farming inputs that were kept in their storage facilities, including fertilizer and chemicals.
“Cash and subsistence crops such as vegetables were reported as destroyed for most farmers,” he said. “Farmers depend on these kinds of crops for cash and consumption, especially small-scale farmers.” Madlala aid that the total damage to infrastructure was currently estimated to be R42-million. “A lot of farmers reported to have had their farm buildings damaged by the rain, and others completely flooded,” he said.
“The intervention required in this, and other similar instances is to assist with rebuilding farmhouses and farm workers’ quarters,” Madlala said that assistance with seedlings, fertilizer and food parcels must be considered as immediate interventions as farmers have also lost household food from the flooding. Meanwhile, Small Business Development Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams announced an R50-million grant for uninsured SMMEs, of which R10-million would be set aside for informal traders.
She also said that R800-million in blended finance would be made available for formal SMMEs. However, the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry has taken issue with the lack of a disaster management plan being shared by government structures with the business sector. “Our SMME sector is still struggling, many of these businesses are still shut down with no hope of recovery ‒ this is truly concerning,” the Chamber warned recently.