Eskom blackouts threaten food security, Agri SA says ahead of Sona

Agri SA has echoed a warning that unless the Eskom crisis is addressed, South African food security hangs in the balance. Picture: Leon Lestrade

Agri SA has echoed a warning that unless the rampant Eskom blackouts crisis is addressed, South African food security situation hangs in the balance. Picture: Leon Lestrade

Published Feb 7, 2023

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Durban — Food security hangs in the balance in South Africa unless immediate action is taken to deal with the prevalent Eskom blackouts.

That’s according to Agri SA chief executive Christo van der Rheede, who made the pronouncement ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s highly-anticipated State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Thursday.

Elaborating, Van Der Rheede said the only way to guarantee food security in South Africa would be an announcement of immediate action for Eskom to relieve the crippling burden of load shedding on farmers.

“Without urgent action, South Africans can expect crop failure, higher food prices and shortages of certain food products in the near future. A state of disaster alone will not avert this threat- but what is required is target relief”.

Van der Rheede noted that load shedding had more than doubled between January and September 2022, compared to the same period in 2021.

He said as a result, the agricultural sector lost more than R23 billion during the nine-month period under review.

He added that this loss could be even greater this year, thus threatening the sustainability of the sector and the 800 000 jobs it provides.

“Given the magnitude of the threat, Agri SA has submitted a letter to the National Disaster Management Centre which details the far-reaching implications of load shedding for grains, livestock, poultry, fruit, vegetables, sugar, edible oils, and much more.

“These industries are central to the ability of South Africa to feed its people,” Van der Rheede added.

He said that while load shedding cannot be fixed overnight, there were critical short-term measures that can be put in place to mitigate its impact on food security.

Agri SA, therefore, called on President Ramaphosa to put the following measures in place immediately:

  • Declare the agricultural sector and associated value chain an essential service;
  • Partially exempt the agricultural sector from load shedding beyond stage 4;
  • Allow for higher rebates on diesel and petrol used for electricity generation;
  • Amend the current tariff structure to reduce the cost of electricity during peak times;
  • Trade load shedding schedules using a local feasibility study (a tiered approach can be taken, using red, orange, and green to identify critical areas), and :
  • Rapidly expand load curtailment to all agricultural areas which qualify in terms of the user mix.

Van der Rheede said that unless these measures were implemented, a catastrophe loomed for the country because of load shedding.

He said farming operations would be disrupted as the 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.

At the same time, meat producers will be unable to pump water for their cattle or to slaughter, and process their livestock and poultry.

Van der Rheede elaborated that agro-processing and retail will also suffer as packing and cooling operations fail.

He further said that the impact of all this for food affordability and availability will be devastating.

“Agri SA, its members as well as value chain role players are already working with a range of stakeholders to ensure its sustainability, so we can continue to feed South Africa. But the government must play its part, recognising the magnitude of the threat to the nation if food security fails.

“President Ramaphosa has the opportunity to lead the effort to find solutions, and he must make use of it”.

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