A video circulating on social media showing 50 000 dead broiler chickens has the whole of Mzansi in shock and criticising Eskom.
The gruesome video shows workers removing dead chickens from a chicken house and loading them onto a truck. It is alleged that the chickens suffocated and died as a direct result of Eskom’s power cuts.
The farm owner identified as Herman du Preez told Netwerk24 that he is reeling in shock. “It’s as if someone threw cold water in my face.” Du Preez, whose farm is located in Lichtenburg, North West, said he discovered the sight of dead chickens on Tuesday morning (17 January). It is reported that the farm owner suffered financial damage to the tune of R1.6 million.
“I thought that it couldn’t be. The relevant cage with 56 000 chickens’ ventilation systems stopped because the power load on our Eskom line is too little.”
He explained that the automatic computer systems shut down in the early hours when it registered the low power load.
“We have contracts, there are also restaurant groups to whom we deliver. Eskom does not care at all about our people who put food on the table for the country,” Du Preez said.
A message that can be seen in the video shared far and wide reads, “How much damage have our farmers [suffered] today [due to] Eskom’s negligence?”
“Transformers that Eskom must fix [but] they refuse. 50 000 chickens have suffocated [and] are dead… Today was a sad day. Please pray for our farmers. Share this video. Farmers are suffering. To see something like this is extremely sad.”
Du Preez said he is in the process of laying a charge against Eskom. “I’m still unsure if my insurance will pay out the damage. “
‘Government has abandoned us’
Eskom’s increased electricity tariff of 18.65%, which is scheduled to come into effect in April 2023, worries farmers even more.
Sandile Sokhulu, a small-scale crop farmer in KwaZulu-Natal, feels that the government has completely abandoned farmers.
“I’m on a 10ha farm. It might be easier to irrigate a 5ha farm with water pipes and water pots, but I can’t do that. It means that we are not able to switch on our irrigation pumps and this puts us at a loss,” he said. “Times are about to get very difficult for us.”
Sokhulu wishes the government had given the agricultural sector time to better prepare and soften the blow. At this rate, he fears his farm might be in trouble because alternative power is too costly for him.
“I don’t think there is even another way that we can save electricity because we need it and we might have to change our current irrigation systems, and that puts us at a disadvantage,” he said.
Some farms might not survive
Mthobisi Mncube from Agri-Africa worries that it will soon be unlikely for farmers to maintain farm equipment, forcing them to increase the prices of output products. There’s also the risk of losing markets, he pointed out.
“The biggest challenge for farmers right now is the fact that their produce will be going off. All their products are at risk of deteriorating because we can’t really claim from the government. This is just a bad economic crisis,” said Mncube.
Echoing Sokhulu’s sentiments, Mncube said it will be difficult for farmers to turn to renewable energy resources more than ever before.
“If the farmer is not making any money from the current state, how will they be able to afford renewable energy?”
Mncube believes farmers who produce fruit and vegetables, especially hydroponic farmers, will be affected the most. This, he explained, is due to the fragility of the crops.
Also, hydroponic farmers need electricity to keep their equipment running.
We need the government to intervene
“For us, it is a devastating situation. We are not only in a position where we must pay for electricity but other input costs such as fertilisers, feed and petrol literally. The rise of electricity tariffs on the 1st of April will be devastating,” said Transvaal Agricultural Union director Benni Van Zyl.
“I’m not so sure why this is happening. We should look at load shedding and figure out that as well.”
The stark reality that South Africans could end up with no food on the table should encourage the government to not only intervene but also implement solutions, Van Zyl said.
Van Zyl believes government should intervene and make sure that enough efforts are put into keeping the electricity on.
“[If] food is on the table, then we will be able to live. It’s not much that we are asking for, if we don’t have food to produce then what will happen to the economy?” he asked.
‘How can we pay for something that we don’t have?’
The unhappy director told Food For Mzansi how matters are only getting worse for South African farmers who have to pay more electricity during continuous rolling blackouts, and he feels strongly that a change must take place at Eskom.
“We must pay more for electricity because Eskom is not acting effectively. I think there are just too many people working for Eskom now. There are a lot of people they don’t need there.
“There are lots of people working there who do not have the skills and the knowledge to run the system. How can we pay for something that we don’t have?”
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain