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Agri SA: Load shedding threatens food security, and diminishes South Africa’s standing as a source market

Agri SA: Load shedding threatens food security, and diminishes South Africa’s standing as a source market

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Pretoria – Concerned by the current wave of blackouts, federation of agricultural organisations, Agri SA has written to Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter requesting an urgent “engagement” on the outlook for load shedding in the coming weeks.

Executive director of Agri SA, Christo van der Rheede said with load shedding escalating as South Africa enters the summer crop planting season, the current energy crisis may have implications for food security into the coming year unless farmers can put measures in place to mitigate against the effects of load shedding.

“Electricity is a key agricultural input. According to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) statistics, the agricultural sector spent approximately R9 billion on electricity in 2021. This is more than 7% of the sector’s expenditure on intermediate goods and services,” said Van der Rheede.

He said a reliable power supply is “especially critical” for the sector’s irrigation and water treatment.

“The consequences of load shedding for the different agricultural commodities are far-reaching, with potentially devastating outcomes. Moreover, the impact of load shedding extends beyond the blackout,” said Van der Rheede.

“It usually takes up to an hour to resume irrigation systems when load shedding ends, costing farmers time and incurring additional labour costs. Blackouts also disrupt cooling and packing, with ramifications for food quality, and they pose a health hazard for humans and animals alike as they disrupt access to clean water for consumption and stop wastewater treatment,” he said.

For export commodities, he said the consequences include a disruption to cold chain protocols mandated by foreign markets and late shipments. He added that these outcomes will diminish South Africa’s standing as a reliable source market.

“Ultimately, the greatest threat of load shedding is to the country’s food security. As crops fail for lack of irrigation or farmers plant less for fear of losses, the country will only experience the consequences of load shedding in the future as the produce anticipated from this summer’s crop fails to materialise. The result will be food shortages and high prices,” said Van der Rheede.

Agri SA said it is aware of the recent announcement that Eskom will approach the market to procure 1000MW, “but farmers need to know what the plan is beyond this initial attempt to stabilise the grid” in order to plan for the season ahead.

“Given the magnitude of what’s at stake, Agri SA has approached Eskom for engagement in order to understand the current challenges and gain some insight into the outlook for the year so the sector can make plans to mitigate the risks, protecting both food consumers and producers.

“We trust that the power utility and government will work with us to avert a food certainty crisis in addition to the ongoing power crisis,” said Van der Rheede.

The Cabinet meeting led by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday to look into different issues, chief among them them the electricity crisis bedevilling South Africa has “expressed regret” over the blackouts.

Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams said the executive heard a briefing presented by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan on the capacity of Eskom.

“Cabinet expressed regret that intermittent load shedding is happening at the time when government is vigorously engaged with the interventions announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in July 2022 to overcome the surmountable energy crisis facing the country,” Williams said.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Ramaphosa had cut short his working visits to the US and the UK, following growing calls for him to deal with South Africa’s deepening power crisis.

Ramaphosa met President Joe Biden in Washington for bilateral talks last week, before flying to London to attend the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, on Monday.

Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said on Monday morning: “The president will no longer be travelling to New York from London. Instead, he will head home to deal with the current Stage 6 load shedding.”

Load shedding was downgraded to Stage 5 earlier this week, Eskom said on Monday, after implementing Stage 6 on Sunday morning.

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