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From KZN floods posing a threat to food security, now its ongoing power outages

Load shedding increases the cost of production for farmers at a time when South Africans are facing further food price increases and are under unprecedented economic pressure. Picture: Pexels

Load shedding increases the cost of production for farmers at a time when South Africans are facing further food price increases and are under unprecedented economic pressure. Picture: Pexels

Published Jul 6, 2022

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Durban — More than two months after KwaZulu-Natal's deadly floods posed a threat to food security, today, load shedding holds serious implications for food security and social stability.

The end of June and the start of July saw Eskom implementing stage 6 load shedding due to generation capacity shortages and labour action.

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Earlier this week, Kwanalu, the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union, said that a large portion of South African crops are produced under irrigation as it is the most economical in terms of water and electricity usage, but not all crops.

An agricultural industry association and refrigeration company had indicated that the rolling out of load shedding in South Africa had implications for food security and social stability but also affected cold storage infrastructure and refrigeration technology, which are key for growth in the country’s food production.

Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede said the impact of the ongoing power outages on the agricultural sector and the wider economy held serious implications for food security and social stability.

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Van der Rheede said the extended period of stage 6 load shedding threatened the viability of the sector. An escalation to stage 7 and higher would be catastrophic and pose a risk to the country's national security.

“Load shedding contributes to inflation and may result in farmers planting less due to rising costs and disruption in planting schedules. Load shedding increases the cost of production for farmers at a time when South Africans are facing further food price increases and are under unprecedented economic pressure. This causes further risks and uncertainties,” Van der Rheede said.

He said that electricity is central to modern farming practices, and the recent increase in load shedding has seriously disrupted farming operations. Pumping stations, irrigation, cooling and other systems all depend on the power supply.

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“While some farmers have the means to move away from the power grid, most are unable to do so. This is especially true for the most vulnerable small-scale farmers. Farmers forfeit their water quotas for irrigation purposes when the power is off - an irrecoverable loss that paralyses farms.”

“Farmers are already reporting huge losses as processing machinery, irrigation equipment, and other machinery are damaged and come to a standstill due to power outages. With essential systems unavailable during the day, farm workers are required to work after hours. Such overtime wages increase production costs which are already increasing,” Van der Rheede said.

“The power outages are also causing waste and financial losses due to the impact on food storage. Retailers are starting to reject fresh produce, mainly vegetables, due to delays in delivery and disruption in the cold chain. In summer, this challenge increases exponentially. This will reduce the amount of food available and increase its cost to the consumer.”

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EP Refrigeration business development head Dawie Kriel said the refrigeration industry is likely to see a notable increase in activity and complexity as the country’s food production industry shifts and evolves over the coming years. However, he said the country’s infrastructure problems would only make for more severe challenges for refrigeration-reliant companies.

“The combination of ongoing load shedding, bottlenecks at our ports and the decaying road infrastructure requires cold storage and transport infrastructure to hold products for longer durations of time before shipping can take place. More sustainable cold storage and insulation, as well as proper servicing of refrigeration equipment, is going to become paramount. With increased power cuts, a higher number of maintenance issues are going to be inevitable, which is why having a well-thought-out service plan for one’s refrigeration systems will become more and more important to avoid unplanned downtime,” Kriel said.

Earlier this week, FF Plus spokesperson on Mineral Resources and Energy, Dr Wynand Boshoff, said: “In South Africa, prosperous households, agriculture, industry, trade and railway transport were basically completely electrified by the 1980s.”

“So, nearly every single citizen is affected by load shedding.”

After the floods, SA Canegrowners said 300 growers had responded to a survey and reported that 2516.65 hectares of cane had extensive crop and root damage. This damage comes to an estimated R194.9m. Farm infrastructure to the value of R27.9m has also been destroyed, bringing the total losses to R222.9m.

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