With a national state of disaster declaration on the cards for Mzansi’s energy crisis, mixed reactions to the formation of the energy crisis task team by the national minister of agriculture, Thoko Didiza have surfaced. Not all farmers are convinced the task team will bring about any change to their dire situations.
“I think it is too late,” Wessel Wessels who farms with livestock and maize in Vrede in the Free State told Food For Mzansi. “The damage has already been done. What will the task team do? We know how slow our government is with everything, and the crisis is now.”
Although experts argue against it, Wessels believes the country is on the verge of food security crisis. “I think they need to step aside and allow the private sector to come and assist farmers. What are you going to say to a person who has lost thousands of chickens and litres of milk? It is all gone. Load shedding did not start yesterday, why wait until now?”
Citrus farmer and exporter Khaya Katoo of Threepence farm in the Eastern Cape, said there needs to be urgency in how the task team deals with the impact of power cuts on the agricultural sector to save the jobs and livelihood of millions of people.
“Load shedding is killing our business. We appreciate the formation of the task team and we call on them to come up with tangible outcomes that will help all of us to navigate through this storm.
“These power cuts disrupt our irrigation scheduling and in turn disrupt the flowering of the trees, which results in small produce, lower volumes, and bad quality of our fruit. This means a very low income,” he added.
Katoo emphasised that load shedding had also opened the door for criminal activity. “We have been experiencing an increase in break-ins in our vicinity which is a concern for us.”
Katoo expects the task team to come up with plans on rolling out renewable energy for the farming sector.
‘It’s a skilled task team’
Meanwhile, the department of agriculture, rural development and land reform spokesperson, Reggie Ngcobo, said the job of the task team is to explore short, medium and long-term interventions to ease the burden of load shedding within the sector.
“Bringing in those with specialist knowledge of energy issues and that the process of formulating solutions is inclusive, and takes on board all the idiosyncrasies of our sector,” he said.
“The task team is already at work which includes representatives from all commodity organisations as well as energy experts and government officials,” Ngcobo said.
Director of Theddan farms in the Western Cape, Ian Cunningham, said as an apple and grape farm, they rely heavenly on irrigation and with load shedding, the impact on their operations is huge as they must wait an additional two hours after the power comes back before they can pump water.
“When we experience stage 4 load shedding, we probably get eight hours of pumping and our dams are dropping relatively fast, so it is a massive concern which had led to pumping or irrigating at night to mitigate any evaporation during the day,” he said.
Cunningham said about 600 of their workers were also battling as they have to deal with load shedding at home after a long day’s work. Their food is also being wasted and their well-being is taking a knock.
Data on the ground
Meanwhile, some agricultural experts have raised concerns.
South African Farmers Development Association (Safda) chairperson, Dr Siyabonga Madlala, said they want the minister to select people with experience in the agricultural sector to effectively deal with these issues.
Madlala explained that although they were invited to the initial meeting with Didiza earlier in January, they have not received an invitation to be part of the task team.
“We are aware that the department is working on this proposal and we look forward to details of how it will be formed, who will be part of it and how it will operate. We will be able to contribute once we have seen the terms of reference. At this stage, Safda has not been invited to be part of the task team.”
Saamtrek Saamwerk is represented by Pulane Sebodisa on the task team.
According to the organisation’s chairperson, Sehularo Sehularo, “We are expecting the task team to visit all provinces and get a first-hand feeling of what power cuts are doing to farmers and the economy, because each province has its own dynamics and it is only fair that the team read the mood of the farmers directly.”
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