The recent spell of load-shedding in South Africa disrupts the economy intensely. It shuts down factories, switches off servers, prevents mining operations, causes massive traffic disruptions and costs billions in potential revenue.
Its effects on the Agricultural Sector are equally significant. An inability to address the load-shedding problem over the long term could have significant consequences for the country’s food security.
Data released from Agri SA indicates that the agricultural sector spent around R146 billion on intermediate goods and services of which R7 billion was spent on electricity alone.
Electricity is fundamental to high energy farming activities such as horticulture, dairy, poultry, grains and agro-processing. Agri SA estimates that 25% of the country’s food is produced by irrigation-reliant and energy-intensive industries.
Electricity and Water Goes Hand-in-Hand
You will have seen how major cities have communicated how sustained load-shedding affects water supply because you obviously need electricity to pump water. Well the same is true for farming, an inability to pump water could threaten the growth of multiple crops that are cultivated in the country.
The challenge is further exacerbated by the fact in some cases there is a total lack of coordination in terms of the rollout for load-shedding, so while a farmer may have access to electricity on his property, it is quite possible the power has been cut in the area where the irrigation scheme pump stations are situated.
The effects of load-shedding on the industry could likely be managed if Eskom agreed to exclude the agricultural sector from stage 1 load-shedding.
A Possible Solution – Solar Power
The impact on the industry has also led to farmers turning to solar power so that they can go off the grid. Agri SA estimates that there are over 500 applications from the agricultural sector awaiting approval from Eskom and NERSA so that they can better stabilise their operations.
A Looming Food Crisis
Within the context of load-shedding, a recent report from the Word Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has also come out indicating that the country could face a food crisis in 2050. The WWF has projected that the country will need to produce 50% more food by 2050 to feed an estimated population of around 73 million people.
The WWF has proposed interventions across the following key areas namely;
- water management,
- regenerative agriculture,
- responsible sourcing,
- reducing food waste and
- encouraging a dietary shift.
The report comes at a time when the agricultural industry has gone through one of the most severe droughts in the country’s history and its recovery has now further been hampered by the recent spate of load-shedding.
South Africa’s food demands are only going to increase in the future and unless the government is able to adequately respond to the needs of the agricultural sector it will pose a severe risk to the country’s food security.
Continued instability in the country’s ability to provide electricity and a failure to acknowledge the role that renewable technologies could play, particularly in the agricultural industry could threaten the future of the sector.
Has your business been affected by load-shedding and what was the negative impact?
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