Katrina Schwartz, a small-scale farmer from tiny Leliefontein near the Namibian border, is used to harsh weather conditions. But in this Namaqualand semi-desert, which averages only 200mm of rainfall per annum, she and the other farmers who graze livestock on communal land are battling with the effects of climate change.
Schwartz (52) is married with two sons and has been a farmer for 30 years. She also has a job with Conservation South Africa (CSA) as a supervisor in the National Resource Management project. She has a total of 80 animals — including 30 goats, 42 sheep and eight cattle— that require sustenance but she’s been struggling to provide this, with overgrazing and water shortages a constant problem on the farm she leases from the municipality.
Schwartz says since 2010 there has been a change in the weather patterns and conditions have worsened over the years. “Summer is dryer and the winters are cold with less rainfall than in the past. There is little grazing for our animals. The situation is really concerning because animals die and some farmers lose the only income that they have.”
Thanks to SaveAct she was able to do something about her predicament, and recently moved her animals to new land that will provide better grazing while giving the old area a chance to recuperate. This would not have been possible without access to a loan from the savings group she joined two years ago, when SaveAct formed a partnership with Conservation South Africa and SANBI to help local people build resilience to changing weather. There are now 2 groups in Leliefontein and 10 in Namaqualand altogether.
“The loan made it possible for me to buy fuel for transport, pay the people that helped me move and buy food for them. The farm is 67km from Leliesfontein and they had to stay over for the night,” she says. She’ll pay rent for the new land, which is owned by the government, and her husband and son will take care of the animals.
Without the loan she would have had to resort to borrowing money with crippling repayment conditions. Instead, she’s repaying her savings group at the agreed pace as per their constitution, and the interest goes back into the group.
SaveAct field officer Geniene Nero says before savings groups were introduced to Namaqualand local people were forced to borrow money with very high interest rates, which lead to a cycle of debt and poverty in the region. “ With the SaveAct model they are learning to be financially smart and independent, and poverty is being reduced in the long run,” she says. (Reporting by Geniene Nero)