MATSILOJE: Over a decade ago, Rosemary Ncube and her husband ventured into arable farming as way of diversifying from livestock rearing.
Then, their decision seemed logical for one major reason, sustainability. Solely relying on the cattle rearing was increasingly becoming unsustainable owing to the reoccurrence of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in the village.
In the last 15-years Matsiloje has turned to be a hotbed for the deadly FMD diseases.
The most deadly outbreak in 2011 led to the culling of over 23, 000 cattle being. Actually, 46, 000 cattle had been infected with the disease, while 23,000 were killed; an equal number was sold to Zimbabwe for P50 million.
But today, Ncube rues the day she decided to venture into arable farming. Since, she has experienced endless agony and frustration.
“I have nothing to show for all the years I have spent in farming,” said Ncube who is among those who have championed the plight of Matsiloje farmers in recent years.
She blames the elephants for her endless woes. For nearly a decade farmers here have constantly experienced little or no harvests because elephants often destroy their crops and fields. The elephants also constantly destroy their properties.
The 62-year-old represents dozens of Matsiloje farmers and others across the country whose hopes of diversifying from pastoral farming have been gravely dashed by elephants.
Elephants continue to trouble farmers in areas such as Tutume, Nata, Gweta and Boteti amongst others.
Farmers in Matsiloje have even been labelled veterans of pain, anger and despair because problems they often encounter in their ventures.
“The situation (destruction caused by elephants) is fierce and widespread. It became severe after the commissioning of Dikgatlhong dam. Elephants frequently destroy our crops and devour on them en-route to Dikgatlhong. I have not enjoyed a fun harvest in many years,” she said.
In her six-hectare field, she grows sorghum and maize.
“Had it not been for elephants I will be harvesting enough to sustain my family and for sale. I have five children of which two are not working. The two entirely depend on me but it is hard to maintain them because my farm literally gives me nothing. What I occasionally harvest is for consumption,” a visibly distraught Ncube said.
“Even the compensation we get for our damaged crops do not often tally with what we have invested in our ventures. It is very low.”
Ncube’s problems are compounded by the fact that even in the absence of FMD her sizeable number of goats and calves have in the recent years fallen prey to wild animals such as leopards and hyenas.
Some have disappeared and she suspects that farmers in the neighbouring Zimbabwe might have stolen them.
“Even the compensation for losing our goats and calves that have fallen prey to wild animals is very low and takes time to be processed. I have come close to giving up on several occasions but without any alternative source of income I have to persist,” she said.
Many people in the village do not adequately tend their crops because they are afraid of elephants that
frequently visit their fields according to Ncube.
However, after years of complaining about inadequate compensation as a result of properties destroyed by elephants Ncube and other farmers in the country may finally get their much-needed relief, which is ‘adequate compensation’ from government.
Parliament recently passed a motion calling for the review of compensation of farmers whose, properties, crops have been destroyed or their animals have fallen prey to wild animals.
Over the years lower compensation and destruction caused by elephants have dominated the agenda of many Kgotla meetings across the country.
The Parliament motion has given her a sense of optimism.
“The review is long over due. Adequate compensation gives farmers a sense of security. They known that if they lose their farming proceeds to wild animals they will be well covered. It will motivate those who have lost interest in farming to come back especially those who cannot afford insurance.”
She added, “I however, wish to see discussions of the motion being broadened. Discussions should also revolve around coming up with strong mechanisms to protect farmers. It will not serve any purpose if the motion solely focus on the compensation only”.
But Ncube says it will not even be sustainable to compensate farmers if mechanisms are not put in place to protect them and their proceeds from wild animals.
Joel Mpetsane who in the past has been at the centre of farmers’ protests against government’s low compensation towards farmers decided to quit arable farming three years ago.
That was after he spent years without experiencing a bumper harvest owing to the constant destruction of his crops by elephants.
“I decided to venture into other things to earn a living. The compensation the government gave me for the destruction caused by elephants also added salt to the injury. We were getting peanuts. I found it risky to do both pastoral and arable farming. I settled for the former because that is where I had already invested a lot,” he said.
Mpetsane also welcomes the recent motion passed by parliament.
“I would like to see the motion discussing how farmers could be capacitated to deal with problematic animals. I am not saying that the animals should be killed. They are many ways in which farmers can be capacitated to deal with the animals. Compensation should be sought as a last relief,” he said.
Mpetsane said that the destruction caused by elephants has not only affected the farmers. “ Some of those who worked for the farmers are now roaming the streets because they have nothing to do. It is a sad situation.”
When supporting the motion in Parliament last week Tati East legislator Samson Moyo Guma also said that its discussions should be broadened and not solely focus on compensation.
Guma has in the recent past pleaded, to no joy, with government to introduce an electric fence to deal with elephants problems.