Sheep are dying in such high numbers, due to hunger or being unable to fight bacteria, that they have dropped from 400 000 before the drought, to the 57 000 counted on April 8.
A six-year drought is bringing the farmers of Sutherland, in the Karoo to their knees. Farmers generally prepare for a one to two-year drought, but the current drought has pushed them to their limits.
The drought’s impact is not only felt by the animals, but also by the local community.
Local economic distress
Sheep farming is the backbone of Sutherland’s economy. It is currently depleting the businesses in the region of their normal turnover with farmers unable to pay accounts or replenish anything, including feedstocks and fuel.
The knock-on not only affects the farmer, but also the animals, farmworkers, and all the families who are dependent on farming in the area.
The terrain itself is under severe stress, with underground water tables dropping, and bushes left with no leaves resulting in plants being unable to photosynthesise.
The economy has taken such a large knock, that the only bank in town has closed its doors. This leaves the farmers of Sutherland in an even more precarious position, having to drive much further to formalise business activities. The further they have to travel; the more diesel is needed. With little to no income coming into their businesses, farmers are left destitute with no diesel available to fill up their vehicles.
Arrangements have been made to assist farmers with the acquisition of diesel, but as for rain and water, that is an ongoing process, for which help has arrived.
Even though the area is expecting rain, it is predicted that the rains will only allow sufficient food growth of 30% for the current livestock numbers. That means that the area will be dependent on donations and feed being brought in from outside areas and resources.
The Gouritz River catchment area that covers the bulk of the Karoo region has seen an increase in average dam levels for the first time in 2019. That average level currently stands at 19.3%. This includes the Gamka Dam in Beaufort West, which is currently only 9.4% full.
The Karoo, the central high plateau of South Africa, gets as little as 400 mm of rain annually, which falls mainly in summer. The winter months are almost completely dry.
Sutherland itself sees about 243 mm of precipitation falls annually.
Save the sheep
Save the Sheep founder Derick Hanekom said that there is so little greenery left that the sheep surround the farmhouses and bleat for food.
The local community of Sutherland and surrounds were directly responsible for the Save the Sheep campaign – a campaign launched to create awareness of the situation the area and its farming communities are facing.
Although the donations have helped a lot, the situation is so severe that sponsored feed itself is not enough, as the intervals of food delivery could not suffice the sustainability of the feeding needs of the community. A savings fund had been established, and a borehole campaign put in place. Funds raised for this borehole campaign have since been used to acquire more feed, at the lowest possible price for farmers in the area.
Save the Sheep has been registered as a Non-Profit Organisation, and are now able to help farmers in the area not just with feed, but by gaining donations to assist in the drilling of more boreholes, and the sinking of pumps.
Grundfos bringing relief
All in all, around 208 holes are planned for the area with pumps needed for the area. With little to no funds available, buying a pump is out of reach for most farmers who are struggling to even create an income in current circumstances. Farmers in the area had approached Grundfos with this dilemma.
Grundfos and Gift of the Givers together with Save The Sheep offered to assist with drilling for water in the area, for all farmers who would need it. Borehole water in the area is usually lifted by wind pumps, but these, unfortunately, do not allow for pipes to be sunk deep enough to access the available water.
The need quickly grew and as much as there is a need for water to be pumped for livestock, water is needed for irrigation too.
Grundfos, along with Gift of the Givers has been assisting with drilling boreholes and the installation of pumps. Pumps now need to be installed for farmers who initially thought they would be fine too, leading to a higher demand than the farmers in the region could afford initially.
“Nothing prepares you for what these farmers are going through. To see tears, roll over the cheeks of a farmer at the first site of water, really affirms why we do what we do.” said marketing manager Willandri Cockroft, Grundfos South Africa.
Gift of the Givers’ promise was not to leave the farm unless water was made available. Currently, just over 130 holes left to be bored. Success wasn’t always guaranteed, as it was difficult to find the water table with enough water flow.
Grundfos installation agents are putting together pumps with all infrastructure in place already, to the point where all the farmer needs to do is put the pump in the hole and connect the switch. This means that in less than 45 minutes, the whole pump is set up, and water is flowing.
The first 30 pumps have been bought, and at the current rate is pumping more water than was expected. Starting with Sutherland, the goal is to spread to the rest of the Karoo, providing much-needed relief as far as possible.