Bush fires burn wildflower farmers

Bush fires burn wildflower farmers

23 February 2006

published by www.theherald.co.za

Western Cape  — Agriculture MEC Cobus Dowry has appealed to commercial banks to come to the aid of wildflower farmers in the Overberg who have suffered direct losses of more than R650-million due to the recent devastating bush fires in the region.

The fires have led to extensive damage to the wildflower industry, especially the all-important export market, leaving 4 000 people in the area unemployed.

“The total losses amount to about R665-million,” Dowry told The Herald yesterday. “The fires have left 4 000 people unemployed which has affected between 800 and 900 families.”

Dowry said as a result of the fires which raged in the Overberg between February 1 and 4 more than 46 000ha of mainly veld and fynbos in conservation areas renowned for their wildflowers had been destroyed.

Proteas and leucadendrons, which grow slowly, were among the species wiped out.

Dowry said in the past he had been able to rely on the willingness of financial institutions to listen to the provincial government’s plea to assist farmers in drought-stricken areas as well as farmers affected by hail damage.

“I have therefore been mandated by the provincial cabinet to call on banks to assist the wildflower industry in this region as the industry indicated that there is no insurance coverage for the harvesting of wildflowers.”

There were plans to create employment by having casual workers assist in destroying the alien vegetation which sprung up quickly after veld fires.

The “Work for Water” project of the water affairs department would make R17-million available for this initiative.

The MEC had a meeting with financial institutions on Tuesday. “As always, the financial institutions were extremely sympathetic to our plight,” said Dowry.

All the banks had indicated that they would consider the rescheduling of loans or consolidation of debt to assist the wildflower industry, he said.

The banks had also recognised that not only producers were affected but also people in the value chain. “In one instance one supplier lost almost 30 per cent of his supply but the bank also provided him with the necessary assistance.”

Dowry said one aspect which had been raised by the South African Protea Producers and Exporters’ Association was the need for insurance.

“I will in due course also approach insurance service providers to raise the matter with them as the banks did indicate that they are willing to look at options to finance premiums on this type of insurance.”

Dowry said the agriculture department would draft a memorandum to the provincial treasury for possible assistance to farmers in respect of the R1,5 -million for loss of uninsurable infrastructure which they had suffered.

The new Disaster Management Act which comes into effect on April 1 would make municipalities responsible for establishing extensive firebreaks in their municipal areas to protect against the spread of bush fires, he said.

This would mean that farmers who suffered losses would have some claim against municipalities which failed to meet these requirements.


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