In a recent article published on the Daily Maverick website, author Christo van der Rheede highlights the devastating impact that rolling blackouts have had on South Africa’s agriculture sector and its potential impact on food security. While load shedding has affected every sector of the economy, agriculture has been hit particularly hard, with numerous commodities under severe strain.
As van der Rheede points out, “The full impact of rolling blackouts on food security over the past few months is still to come, with many staples in the shops currently still being drawn from previous harvests. In short, tougher times for food security are coming.” If urgent interventions are not taken, load shedding of electricity could well become load shedding of food for many people.
The agriculture sector’s growth contracted by 3.3% in the last quarter of 2022, well above the overall 1.3% reduction. In the same quarter, it shed 12,000 jobs. With the first quarter of 2023 witnessing unprecedented levels of blackouts, the sector’s growth and employment outlook for Q1 of 2023 is uncertain.
Van der Rheede emphasizes the importance of prioritizing the ability to produce food locally, being mindful that many South Africans are already food-insecure. While the government has identified food production and storage infrastructure as “essential infrastructure” during the state of disaster, little action has been taken in terms of granting exemptions or reduced schedules for farmers.
Unfortunately, blackouts have not been the only factor threatening food production and security in South Africa. Either flooding or drought have also had an impact on agriculture in almost every province over recent months. The Expropriation Bill is also making its way through the National Council of Provinces, which, if passed, will severely undermine the ability of farmers to raise loans against their property.
Van der Rheede stresses that urgent action is needed to address rolling blackouts and ensure food security. The extension of the rebate of the Road Accident Fund levy to diesel used by foodstuff manufacturers is a good starting point, but more needs to be done. The rapid roll-out of load curtailment for farmers is urgently required to ensure that the deterioration of food security is halted in its tracks.
It’s clear that load shedding poses a serious threat to South Africa’s agriculture sector and food security. As we navigate these challenging times, it’s important to acknowledge and give credit to authors like Christo van der Rheede for bringing attention to these critical issues.