• Some maize farmers are struggling to get fuel to harvest their crops, amid fuel rationing.
  • Diesel is also used to transport maize to silos, to mills, and to stores. That means the availability of maize meal might be hit.
  • The diesel demand was stronger than expected as lockdown started to ease. 
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

South Africa may face a maize meal crunch as diesel shortages start to affect food production.

South Africa has been rationing diesel since last month. Local fuel producers said the sharp increase in demand following months of lockdown had caught them by surprise.

During lockdown half of the country's six oil refineries were mothballed and some are still busy coming online, while a third ran into technical problems.

It’s particularly maize farmers in the North-West who have been hardest hit by the diesel shortage. They’ve been unable to harvest crops or take them to be processed.

Speaking to Netwerk24, John Purchase, the head of Agbiz, the agricultural business chamber, says the shortages are getting worse – right as the maize harvest season begins.

That’s bad news for consumers, as maize meal is a staple food in South Africa.

According to Purchase, diesel shortages affect the whole value chain. It starts with farmers harvesting the crops, which are transported by trucks to silos for storage, then to mills for processing, and finally to retailers for consumption. If one part of the chain breaks down, it means higher prices and shortages for consumers.

In a statement, the South African Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia) said the availability of diesel had improved after diesel tankers begun arriving at Durban. From there, fuel is transported to the interior of the country via Transnet’s fuel pipeline – but this has been sitting idle due to theft, and has only recently restarted.

Purchase told Netwerk24 that he is skeptical about Sapia’s excuse that it did not expect the sharp demand for diesel after months of lockdown. According to him, the maize harvest always begin at the same time every year and other farmers, such as fruit producers, also need to get their crops to ports for export.

(Compiled by Edward-John Bottomley)