If Andre Roux is feeling uncertain about the future, he’s doing a good job of hiding it.
We’re sitting on an old plough, discussing the worst drought to hit the country in close to quarter of a century. All around us the land is scorched and windswept and slowly dying. On the horizon, plump Cumulus suggest some respite, but selfishly drift away without offering up a single drop. It’s drier than an annual general meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous – and about as much fun.
South Africa’s farmers are renowned for their ability to grow crops in near desert conditions, but there are limits to their ingenuity. Andre’s land doesn’t appear capable of sustaining a small cactus, never mind a full crop of maize. If rain doesn’t come soon, in amounts that don’t immediately evaporate, his investment in seed, fertilizer, sprays and an array of implements will come to naught. Worse still, he - like most of the country’s commercial farmers – prepped for the new planting season on borrowed money. Without a crop to harvest, the only plan this boer will be making is how to re-pay the bank with cash he doesn’t have.
[pullquote]It’s drier than an annual general meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous – and about as much fun. [/pullquote]
It’s a predicament that would have most city dwellers speed-dialling their therapists, but Andre is taking it all in his significant stride. Perhaps his optimism is genetic: you have to be predisposed towards looking on the bright side to survive and thrive in an environment like this – even when it rains. Or maybe he’s unfamiliar with the science of El Niño.
Speak to the climatologists and most will tell you the earliest Andre and his colleagues across the country can expect significant rain is April. That means any hope of meeting the planting deadline for the current season will be dashed. The consequences could be apocalyptic.
Of course, climatologists have been wrong before and their predictions might well become the source of much mirth when the Free State’s farmers gather for their legendary Friday night braais. If the rains arrive to save this year’s crop, the entire country might want to join them for a couple of Brandies and Coke.