While power cuts have lowered in stages in the past few weeks, farmers are still faced with the brunt of power supply not only affecting their operations but also impacting their growth and potentially risking their existence. This is while they wait for the implementation of the energy action plan.
Experts and farmers have said the energy action plan has the potential to improve the power supply only if it is implemented with speed to restore food production availability in the country.
Energy security for the nation
The energy action plan, which was launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa in July last year, lays out the tasks that Eskom and the government must accomplish in order to reduce and eventually end load shedding and provide energy security for the nation in the future.
The short-term objective of the plan is to reduce the severity and frequency of load shedding through immediate measures to improve the performance of Eskom’s existing power stations and stabilise the energy system.
According to the government, the long-term objective of the plan is to end load shedding altogether and achieve energy security by adding as much new generation capacity to the grid as possible, as quickly as possible.
Agriculture set to benefit
Head of the energy secretariat at the South African National Energy Development Institute Professor Sampson Mamphweli, said the plan as announced by the government is to deal with the current electricity challenges that result in load shedding. He said since its introduction it had a number of interventions including improving the performance of the Eskom coal power stations.
He told Food For Mzansi that the agriculture sector, like many other key economic sectors of the country, relied on energy in general and electricity for food production, transportation, and processing. The shortage of electricity affects the sector negatively.
“The success of the implementation of the energy action plan is necessary to provide electricity to the sector. The sector is also losing in terms of production and processing of agricultural products, and in some cases, the sectors rely on expensive energy sources such as diesel, which is not sustainable.
“The impact for farmers is that if the plan is properly implemented they will benefit from the security of supply of electricity, which is one of the major inputs into their production and processing facilities,” he explained.
Mamphweli said South Africa’s food security hinges on the success of the energy action plan. However, he believes that there are a lot of uncoordinated initiatives by the government to help reduce the cost of production for farmers in South Africa.
Impact ‘not yet felt’
According to CEO of the African Poultry Producers Kobedi Pilane, load shedding has had a major impact.
“As a poultry farmer, I have incurred huge losses at the height of load shedding when we were having up to six hours of no power from the grid. The R2.5 billion allocated to institutions like Land Bank is not enough, but a good initiative, it will be a huge challenge to access the fund as we know how Land Bank is understaffed and very slow in responding to such urgent interventions,” Pilane said.
“We are also aware that Industrial Development Cooperation (IDC) has a similar funding model to assist in relieving the burden of energy shortages for farmers as well.”
He added that the impact of these financial interventions has not been felt as yet. “We should have an idea of how much these have helped farmers in a year or so. Most commercial farmers have made significant investments of their own to keep their production levels up and ongoing. Some have folded. We have lost a lot of money just to stay in the business.”
Pilane said the biggest challenge is the speed at which government agencies can provide these grants and blended loans to farmers.
“It is a good thing that they are still open and encouraging farmers to bring their proposals to get the funding needed for this. It is a good initiative as part of the government’s efforts to ensure food security and affordability in the agricultural sector,” he said.
The action plan is well-received
Meanwhile, Alexandra-based hydroponic farmer and chief impact officer of African Women in Agriculture Sibongile Cele said the energy action plan is what farmers need and has urged the government for its full implementation so that food producers could continue with their work without fail.
She believes the plan has the potential of improving production yield. “We would be able to increase production of our crops using solar to power our 14 000 capacity hydroponic crop farming system.
“The load shedding has impacted the food production negatively and the introduction of solar will improve production and the price of food will not be too high,” she added.
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