Agri SA says it has requested an urgent meeting with Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter to discuss the outlook for load shedding in the country, ahead of the summer crop planting season.
The federation of agricultural organisations says it fears the current state of energy supply in the country – should it continue at this level – will have harsh implications for local food production and may also jeopardise export agreements.
“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,” Agri SA said in a statement.
“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.”
Agri SA acknowledged Eskom’s efforts to stabilise the grid through the launch of its power purchase programme earlier this week, which looks to procure 1 000 megawatts (MW) of power from independent producers and neighbouring countries. However, the industry says it needs a more detailed longer-term plan to help it plan for the approaching season.
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Further, Agri SA says load shedding has had a significant impact on the productivity of farmers, with most farmers being forced to work fewer hours and pour more money into covering 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.”
The better part of the last two weeks has seen the country battling Stage 6 and now Stage 5 load shedding. This as the state-owned power producer reported several generation unit breakdowns at various power stations.
The latest bout of load shedding has seen households and businesses having to go about six to 10 hours without electricity supply.
For many businesses this has led to an increased dependence on diesel-powered generators, driving operational costs through the roof in most cases.
“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,” Agri SA said.
“This is more than 7% of the sector’s expenditure on intermediate goods and services. A reliable power supply is especially critical for the sector’s irrigation and water treatment.”
Agri SA further warns that load shedding means bad news for the industry’s international relationships, as persistent power cuts interfere with cold chain protocols mandated by foreign markets and can result in late shipments.
“These outcomes will diminish South Africa’s standing as a reliable source market,” Agri SA adds.
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