Cold chain disruptions and retailers rejecting produce: How SA's blackouts hurt farmers

Business Insider SA
 (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
  • Load shedding is disrupting the agricultural sector's cold chains, and impacting the quality of fresh produce.
  • Retailers are turning away produce, causing food waste and financial losses. 
  • Lingering load shedding doesn't bode well for the industry and will impact its viability, Agri SA has said.
  • The blackouts have damaged farmers' equipment, while some are forced to work after hours to compensate for the lost time.
  • That increases production bills just as farmers are battling rising fuel, electricity, and fertiliser prices.
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Retailers are turning away produce from farmers with South Africa's latest round of load shedding heavily disrupting cold chains and compromising quality, Agri SA has said. 

South Africa is currently experiencing one of its worst-ever load shedding bouts. Last week, Eskom announced Stage 6 rolling blackouts, which have only ever been implemented once before, in 2019.

The impact is dire for the agricultural sector and South Africa's food security, Christo van der Rheede, Agri SA's executive director, said. 

He said the outages are hampering food storage and causing food waste and financial losses in the value chain. 

"Retailers are starting to reject fresh produce, mainly vegetables, due to delays in delivery and disruption in the cold chain. In summer, this challenge increases exponentially. This will reduce the amount of food available and increase its cost to the consumer," Van der Rheede said.

Persistent high levels of load shedding will threaten the viability of the agricultural sector and put more pressure on already constrained farmers, Agri SA said.

With load shedding being a contributor to inflation, it may result in farmers planting less to escape the rising costs of production. The recent outages also come when farmers battle the steep input costs of fertiliser, feed, electricity, and fuel.

To compound their troubles, farmers are already incurring losses with processing, irrigation machinery, and other equipment suffering damage.

"With essential systems unavailable during the day, farm workers are required to work after hours. Such overtime wages increase production costs which are already increasing," said Van der Rheede. 

Agri SA said it is in support of Eskom's decision to increase its renewable energy capacity by an additional 4,000MW in a bid to reduce instances of load shedding.

"The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has a critical role to play in quickly getting the necessary policy infrastructure in place so that Eskom can increase its capacity. Failure to do so poses serious economic risks to South Africa, including social instability," it said.

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