Pests and diseases cost the agricultural sector billions of rands every year and cause huge losses to the country’s economy. We can all do our part to head off possible disasters by planning ahead, staying aware and taking action before a disease crisis hits our flocks and fields.
“From a financial perspective we would advise farmers to focus on pest and parasite control upfront,” says Standard Bank’s head of agriculture, Nico Groenewald. “A well-managed programme goes some way towards making sure the financial structure of the farm doesn’t collapse,” he adds.
Serious disease outbreaks, even if contained, can have a tremendous impact on trade, as other countries rush to close their borders in an effort to prevent the import of dreaded diseases along with produce and products. The Chinese government last month banned the import of all products of cloven-hoofed animals from South Africa because of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreaks in five provinces in the country.
The 2019 FMD outbreak was estimated to have caused losses of R10bn to the red meat industry. There have been worrying outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF) in the past few years, including one in January 2022, outside the ASF control zone. This fatal, highly contagious viral disease in pigs strikes hard at small-scale farmers who struggle to apply the right biosecurity measures. Heartwater, a tick-borne parasitic disease, currently costs the livestock sector an estimated R1.2m every year and is a growing threat as ticks may extend their ranges with rising temperatures.
Pest and disease outbreaks in crops, too, can wipe out potential profits overnight. Farmers experienced heavy losses from the recent locust plagues that destroyed crops across several provinces, and oriental fruit fly invasions in the Western Cape cause estimated annual losses of R51bn, which is significant by any standards.
Groenewald points out that negative cash flow is a financial “pest” to be avoided, as it affects the ability of the farmer to manage a disease outbreak successfully. Scenario planning and risk management will help commercial farmers of all sizes to overcome destructive pest and disease outbreaks.