South Africa: Destruction of weather stations hurts farmers

| January 18, 2016

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Farmers in Limpopo, one of South Africa’s driest provinces, have relied for years on community weather stations to know when to plant and harvest. But vandals are destroying the weather stations, making it difficult for farmers to get accurate weather forecasts.

Anele Rakgwadi is a 43-year-old farmer in Tzaneen, one of South Africa’s biggest tomato-growing areas. Ms. Rakgwadi says that not having properly-functioning community weather stations has hurt her farming business. She explains: “This year, we planted our tomatoes without adequate knowledge. There were no weather stations to warn us of approaching frost. My two hectares of tomatoes were [damaged] by dropping temperatures.”

Weather station, Vukucinge School, South Africa

Photo: Joel Mopati inspects a weather station at Vukucinge School, in Limpopo, South Africa. Credit: Robson Mlambo

Joel Mopati is the agriculture chief technologist in Limpopo province. He says there are 800 weather stations in the province. Mr. Mopati explains that most weather stations were placed on public school properties and near medical clinics to prevent thieves and wandering animals from getting to them. But that hasn’t worked. Only 441 stations are actually in working order. Vandals have destroyed the rest.

Ms. Rakgwadi believes the vandalism is a direct result of the high unemployment rate in her area. She says, “Unemployment troubles local youths here. At night, they strip away circuit boards, cords, and weather station sensors for resale.”

Gladman Xobekile is head of public relations for the Limpopo police. He says vandals destroyed 17 weather stations in Mokopane District between July and September, 2015. Thirty-three people were arrested. Police recovered ten weather stations from metal scrap yards.

But the arrests and recoveries have done little to help farmers.

Beatrice Dlodlo is a mango farmer. She says her harvest was destroyed in August of last year. She says: “We delayed picking off our mangoes by two weeks in August. Our weather station at the local clinic was stolen … A hail storm descended upon us and scratched off the peels of our mango fruit. The city supermarkets refused to buy our spoiled fruits.”

female cattle rancher

Photo: Rebecca Mashudu is a cattle farmer in Limpopo, South Africa. Photo credit: Robson Mlambo

Rebecca Mashudu is a veteran cattle farmer who migrates with her 30 cows to Limpopo every winter. She relies on weather reports, and the lack of weather stations makes it difficult to know where she should take her animals. She says, “There are no working weather stations to warn herders and farmers of advancing bad rains. I lost seven young calves to frostbite.”

Farmers like Ms. Rakgwadi want things to change—and soon! Her solution to stop the vandalism is to move the stations. She says, “Weather stations must be housed on our farm plots. That way we can guard them effectively.”