South African farmers face losses as drought worsens
GROOT MARICO, South Africa (AP) — "Is that a rain cloud, or am I imagining things?" asks Jana du Plessis, speaking Afrikaans.
"I'd be thrilled if it is," says her husband, Riaan du Plessis, with a joyless laugh. The flimsy white clouds drifting above this South African farm are not enough to bring relief, or hope.
Six of South Africa's nine provinces, including the North West province where the Du Plessis have a farm, have been hit by drought, with three provinces declared disaster areas. Water restrictions have taken effect in the capital, Pretoria, and Johannesburg, where two hospitals had to halt surgeries and dialysis treatment for a day as some suburbs were left without water, according to South African media. An estimated 2.7 million households, about 18 percent of the population, have been affected by the drought, according to the water ministry.
Normally, the Du Plessis' 55-hectare (140-acre) farm yields about 700 bales of cattle feed every six weeks. Now, he's barely able to roll 150 bales. Only months ago, they were able to sell cabbages and corn at their roadside stall, harvested from their vegetable garden. Now the ochre-colored earth that is about half the size of a football field is dry and hard.
"I don't know what we're going to do," says du Plessis, a phrase he repeats often, as he smokes one cigarette after the other.
Du Plessis, 38, stands on the cracked earth that three weeks ago was the bottom of a reservoir. He bought the farm just eight months ago, spending the life's savings he accumulated driving trucks across the country for 17 years.
If there is no rain by February, he will have to sell the farm and return to the road.