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Call for immediate steps to avoid a food security crisis unfolding due to load shedding

The Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry calls for immediate steps to avoid a food security crisis unfolding due to load shedding.

Reports from the agriculture sector suggest many commercial crops are not receiving the necessary irrigation due to power supply challenges.  This affects the Western Cape, a winter rainfall area, as much as it does other provinces where commercial farmers require intensive pivot irrigation.

Power outages also impact cooling facilities needed during the fruit packaging process, which is  of particular concern to the Western Cape where 200 000 people work in the agricultural sector. The Province also handles 53% of South Africa’s agricultural exports, making power supply a critical factor right across the value chain.

Further north there are reports of up to 25% of South Africa’s staple food harvest, maize, wilting in the field due to power disruptions.  Other crucial crops such as potato, soya, fruit and nuts, all largely dependent upon irrigation, are similarly affected, according to Free State Agriculture which issued an SOS to government last week.  Among the interventions requested by farmers are:

  1. a) a power generation subsidy  for those forced to introduce alternative power due to Eskom failure
  2. b) an alternative load shedding schedule that offers more protection for primary sectors, such as less load shedding at times when irrigation is most needed.

The Western Cape government has also appealed to Eskom to take food security into consideration when applying load shedding schedules. They point out that the Province.

The Chamber shares farmers’ concerns, particularly in light of agriculture’s hugely important role in providing food security and employment.  Reducing food security is tantamount to increasing social instability, at a time when citizens are already under stress due to rising costs and widespread unemployment, and a long list of other stress factors.

In the Chamber’s recent survey of our business environment, over 40% of respondents said their energy supply is unreliable, and over 20% generate more than half their power from alternative sources. This implies that the power supply crisis comes at enormous cost to business competitiveness.

It is our submission that Eskom and its political masters urgently need to do more to protect critical economic sectors while the country is racing to make up the power supply deficit – which is likely to be with us for years.  Agriculture is one such sector requiring special consideration.

One hopeful sign is government’s willingness to allow more private sector involvement in the energy space, as evidenced by this week’s news that National Treasury has approved the City of Cape Town’s electricity cash-for-power plan. Homeowners and businesses will now be able to sell power they have generated on their property – a potential game-changer and benchmark for other municipalities. As a Chamber we are hoping this model can be replicated elsewhere as soon as possible.

Treasury’s decision is good news for the agricultural sector, particularly for farming consortiums which have long been asking to generate their own power and feed into the grid.

We urge all relevant role players to accelerate private participation in the energy sector. This will in turn accelerate much-needed innovation and help grow the green economy.

We look forward to assisting this process as much as possible.

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