As President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation Address this week, the only way to guarantee food security in South Africa will be an announcement of immediate action by government and Eskom to relieve the crippling burden of loadshedding 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 – what is required is targeted relief.
Loadshedding more than doubled between January and September 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. As a result of this catastrophe, the agricultural sector lost more than R23 billion during the nine-month period under review. This loss could be exceeded in 2023, 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 loadshedding for grains, livestock, poultry, fruit, vegetables, sugar, edible oils, etc.. These industries are central to the ability of South Africa to feed its people.
While loadshedding cannot be fixed overnight, there are critical short-term measures that can be put in place to mitigate its impact on food security.
Agri SA therefore calls on President Ramaphosa to ensure the following measures are put 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.
Unless these measures are implemented, a catastrophe looms for the country because of loadshedding. 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 loadshedding 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. Agro-processing and retail will also suffer as packing and cooling operations fail. The result 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 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; he must take it.