South Africa — The devastating fires in the Overberg region have left about 800 families dependent on the flower industry without an income, Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool has said after a visit to the area.
The South African Protea Producers and Exporters Association (Sappex) has also said the multimillion-rand industry is to take a hard knock, with financial losses.
Rasool, agriculture minister Cobus Dowry, housing and local government minister Richard Dyantyi, and environment, development and economic planning minister Tasneem Essop visited the area on Monday to assess thedamage.
Rasool said the next step would be discussed at a provincial cabinet meeting on Tuesday. A decision might be taken to propose to President Thabo Mbeki that the Overberg be declared a disaster area.
“We are very, very concerned about the devastation. Apart from the possibility that some fynbos species may be threatened with extinction, the destruction of flower farms has threatened 800 families who are dependent on them.
“Also, the flowers attract tourists, so the tourism industry will be affected.”
Rasool said that, in deciding whether to make the proposal to Mbeki, the MECs would need to look at such factors as how long it would take the flower industry to recover and what alternative labour could be provided for the workers affected.
He said there had also been damage to infrastructure in the area.
Agriculture MEC Cobus Dowry said: “Agriculture has suffered a great loss. The fynbos industry has been destroyed and will take between three and five years to recover. It is a multimillion-rand industry.
“If the area is declared a disaster area, we will be able to get additional money from the national department to provide relief to the families.
“Based on the way it looks, it should be declared a disaster area.”
The area would need R40-million “to get it back to the way it was”, Dowry said.
He added that R40-million was a “conservative figure”.
Sappex chairperson Maryke Middelmann said the loss of fynbos in the Overberg was a “big problem” as the region’s species were “popular”.
“A lot of the veld harvesting would have taken place now. The financial impact on the area is huge.
“Eighty percent of the protea industry comes from the Western Cape and the Overberg is an important area because of its high diversity.
“The industry brings in R30-million and we will suffer a financial loss because we cannot supply our customers.
“It is also very dependent on labour.”
If the earth had been too severely scorched by the fire, the seeds might not be able to germinate, Middelmann said.
Although fynbos needs fire to regenerate, if the fire cycle is too frequent and seed beds are destroyed, it can be detrimental to the Western Cape’s unique vegetation.
Carl Opperman, chief executive at Agri Wes Cape, expressed scepticism about the benefits of declaring the Overberg a disaster area.
“It is usually a political move that is exercised only in theory and without practical implications,” he said.