by TINTSWALO BALOYI
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – FROM an envied position as Africa’s breadbasket, earned for being a net surplus producer and a food importer, South Africa now faces the gloomy prospect of food insecurity.
Thanks to load shedding.
It is taking the country from the highs as Africa’s agricultural powerhouse to a position where food security is a concern.
The farming industry was among the economic pivots during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, considered an essential service as South Africa imposed one of the most stringent regulations to curb the virus.
However, under the current pandemic – load shedding – no industry is spared the crisis or enjoys essential service status.
Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz), detailed the devastating impact of load shedding on South Africa’s agriculture and agribusiness activities.
He explained farmers that rely on irrigation have all expressed concerns that persistent load shedding is negatively affecting production.
Around 20 percent of maize, 15 percent of soybean, 34 percent of sugarcane, and nearly half of the wheat production are produced under irrigation.
Fruits and vegetables also heavily rely on irrigation and thus face similar challenges, Sihlobo disclosed.
In red meat, poultry, piggery, wool and dairy production, there are also concerns that loadshedding beyond stage two makes operations and planning challenging.
These industries require continuous power for their usual activities.
Similarly, agribusinesses in various downstream processing activities, such as milling, bakeries, abattoirs, wine processing, packaging and animal vaccine production face similar challenges.
“The financial impact on agribusinesses or on food security more broadly is not yet clear and will be difficult to quantify,” Sihlobo said.
The economist warned of workers in the sector losing jobs and farmers losing crops as load shedding is ramped up.
“There is a real danger that some farmers could lose their crops and that would impact the financial future of the farms and likely to have a negative impact on agricultural financiers.”
Nonetheless, Sihlobo said away from ongoing concerns about the energy crisis, agricultural conditions in the country are generally favourable, having benefitted from the rains of the past few months.
“Provided a near-term solution for the sector’s energy shortage is found, this could be another year of generally large agricultural harvests across all subsectors and possibly positive growth (from the contraction we estimate for 2022).”
South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, is grappling its worst electricity crisis in years
There appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel as far as load shedding is concerned.
– CAJ News