The voice of agriculture . Die stem van landbou . Izwe lezokulima

Agri SA’s Sona request: Declare the sector an essential service

Over nine months, the agriculture sector lost R23bn.

By Ntando Thukwana 7 Feb 2023

Agri SA has urged President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare South Africa’s agricultural sector an essential service when he delivers the State of the Nation Address (Sona) later this week and to exempt it from higher load-shedding schedules to protect the country’s food security.

The industry, which lost more than R23 billion in just nine months last year, said without urgent action and relief measures from the government and state-owned power utility Eskom, already under-pressure consumers will face higher food prices.

Further, some crops may fail and South Africa may face shortages of certain foods in the near future, Agri SA said in a statement released on Tuesday.

“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 load shedding on farmers,” the industry body said.

Ramaphosa, who is under pressure to address the country’s power supply crisis, is due to deliver his Sona on Thursday, with South Africa now having experienced three straight months of load shedding, and facing Eskom’s implementation of rolling power cuts for the next couple of years.

Agri SA has urged the president to immediately declare the agricultural sector, as well as its entire value chain, an essential service.

It also wants to be excused from load shedding when it is implemented beyond Stage 4 and to be allowed higher rebates on diesel and petrol used for its electricity generation.

The industry is also calling for the amendment of the current electricity tariff structure, which would see the cost of electricity reduced during peak times, among other requests.

Agri SA shared its concerns around the dire and “far-reaching” implications of load shedding for grains, livestock, poultry, fruit, vegetables, sugar, edible oils, and other food crops in a letter to the National Disaster Management Centre.

With load shedding having doubled between January and September 2022, compared with the same period in 2021, the impacts of the sector have been ‘catastrophic’ and losses could exceed the R23 billion reported from last year, Agri SA said in its Tuesday statement.

Aside from the financial implications, the electricity crisis is threatening as many as 800 000 jobs in the sector.

“Unless these measures are implemented, a catastrophe looms for the country because of load shedding. 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 load shedding schedules,” Agri SA said.

“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,” it said.