Sona 2023: agriculture heard not a whisper on food security threat

Agricultural South Africa (AGRI SA) warned that critical measures to be put in place immediately. Picture: Janis Fraser

Agricultural South Africa (AGRI SA) warned that critical measures to be put in place immediately. Picture: Janis Fraser

Published Feb 9, 2023


Other than a brief, “Load shedding means that households and supermarkets are unable to keep food fresh, water supply is often disrupted, traffic lights do not work, streets are not lit at night,” and a blessing to growth of the cannabis industry, President Cyril Ramaphosa paid lip service to the looming food security threat announced by sectors from dairy, poultry, crop and vegetable production as well as other vital cogs in the country’s literal food chain.

“We know that without a reliable supply of electricity, businesses cannot grow, assembly lines cannot run, crops cannot be irrigated and basic services are interrupted,” the president at the 2023 State of the Nation Address (Sona) expected to minutely address the challenges the agricultural sector is faced with as a result of load shedding.

“Call me tomorrow, we are still to look at the takeaways from the address but I did not hear much, if any, detail or focus on the issues we have presented for urgent attention,” a leading agricultural entity executive said.

Agricultural South Africa (AGRI SA) warned that critical measures to be put in place immediately included; the declaration of the agricultural sector and associated value chain an essential service, partially exempt the sector from load-shedding beyond stage 4, allow for higher rebates on diesel and petrol used for electricity generation, amendment of the current tariff structure to reduce the cost of electricity during peak times, trading of load-shedding schedules using a local feasibility study, a tiered approach can be taken, using red, orange, and green to identify critical areas as well as rapidly expanding load curtailment to all agricultural areas which qualify in terms of the user mix.

“Unless these measures are implemented, a catastrophe looms for the country because of load shedding. Farming operations will be disrupted as equipment is damaged due to power failures; the cost of food production will increase as farmers are forced to irrigate at peak prices; and labour costs will soar due to irregular work hours based on load shedding schedules, Agri SA Chief Executive Christo van der Rheede said.

President Ramaphosa said various efforts including private generation, IPPs coming into the grid and Eskom units returning on stream would “result in a massive increase in power to the grid over the next 12 to 18 months and beyond.”

The Bureau for Economic Research noted this month that the woes of the agricultural sector have the most immediate impact, with operational costs skyrocketing and price increases having a knock-on effect along the entire supply chain.

Poultry producer Astral Foods warned that continuous load shedding, as well as the general decay of municipal infrastructure, was contributing to severe business disruptions, raising costs and ultimately impacting prices.

“Therefore, as we outline our agenda for the year ahead, our most immediate task is to dramatically reduce the severity of load shedding in the coming months and ultimately end load shedding altogether,” President Ramaphosa said.

He offered the Presidential Employment Stimulus to small scale farmers.

“Around 140 000 small-scale farmers have received input vouchers to buy seeds, fertiliser and equipment, providing a boost for food security and agricultural reform. This initiative has led to the cultivation of some 640 000 hectares of land. An impressive 68% of these farmers are women. This year, we aim to provide 250 000 more vouchers to small-scale farmers,” he said.

Giving an update on water use license procurement, President Ramaphosa said the government had cleared the backlog of water use licenses and reduced the turnaround time for applications to 90 days after last year’s turnaround plan to streamline the process for water use license applications.

President Ramaphosa announced major strides in creating enabling conditions for the cannabis sector to grow.

He said the Department of Agriculture Land Reform and Rural Development and the Department of Health would address existing conditions for the cultivation of hemp and cannabis to allow outdoor cultivation and collection of harvests from traditional farmers.

“This will unlock enormous economic energy in the rural areas of the country, especially in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. Urgent work is being finalised by the government to create an enabling regulatory framework for a whole plant, all legitimate purposes approach for complimentary medicines, food, cosmetics, and industrial products, aligned to international conventions and best practices,” he said.

In earlier comment, AgriBiz Economist Wandile Sihlobo, noted that cannabis could be a catalyst for revitalising rural communities that are economically marginalised and excluded from the agriculture value chains and create opportunities for cannabis-tourism, especially in rural Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.

“South Africa still can build a competitive edge in the cannabis industry even though countries such as Lesotho are the first movers. Lesotho is building its cannabis economy on the back of low-cost labour, water abundance, relatively affordable electricity and high altitude, which reduces costs associated with pest management, thereby positioning the country as a key supplier of an organic variety of cannabis.

He said there were are real opportunities for new entrepreneurs in this sector including cultivation and production; hydroponics; industrial hemp (fuels, chemicals, environmentally friendly plastics, biodegradable nappies, sanitary pads and textiles); compound isolation and new strand development; seed distribution; logistics and transportation; retail outlets or dispensaries and clinical trials and medical research, among others, key supplier of an organic variety of cannabis.