Although the current grain and maize harvest may be slightly impacted by an anticipated fuel shortage, farmers would only be hit in the upcoming harvest season, warns Grain SA economist Luan van der Walt.
Van der Walt tells Food For Mzansi that the new planting season is anticipated to take place in September. If the anticipated fuel crisis should take place following civil unrest in at least two provinces, agricultural inputs used to produce grain and maize might not reach farmers.
“If agricultural inputs don’t reach farmers, they will not be able to farm optimally and have great harvest, but we are keeping an eye on the new seasons,” he says.
KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, especially, are on the verge of severe fuel and food shortages. Main supply routes from the KwaZulu-Natal coast, including the N2 and N3, have been blockaded by rioters, preventing trucks carrying petrol, diesel and fresh produce from moving.
The Road Freight Association warns that the damage to trucks as well as lost income could run into billions of Rands. This, while ongoing delays could result in grocery-store shelves running empty.
Van der Walt says Grain SA is concerned that they will not be able to transport the produce acquired from this year’s harvest season to milling facilities. This will contribute to the foreseen food crisis.
“The raw materials have to get to the mills themselves in order to be milled to produce the maize meal and to bake bread etc.
“So, if the raw materials can’t get to the milling sites, most of them will have to be stored on the premises depending how big the storage capacity is. If the products can’t be distributed, we might run risk of not having any products on the shop shelves,” he says.
Global reputation damage
According to Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at Agbiz, on average, 75% of the country’s grains are transported by road annually. He says these are largely exported through the Durban harbour.
“The same is true for imported food products such as rice, wheat and palm oil, among other products. The volumes are also large for horticulture, specifically citrus, a leading exportable agricultural product in South Africa.”
Sihlobo says the burning of trucks on the roads and the blocked routes to the ports will prove costly to businesses and harm South Africa’s reputation as a global supplier in various value chains. This will also negatively affect the province’s food supply chains.
“This needs urgent intervention, especially as agricultural products are perishable and the country is entering an export period for citrus in a year of a record harvest.”
Food security at risk
Neo Masithela, the chairperson of Afasa, says they too are concerned about widespread anarchy and looting. Political analysts describe the week-long rioting and looting as a violent uprising against government.
Masithela urges people to stop what they are doing because they are putting food security at risk.
“This has a huge bearing on the production by the farmers. If we have to produce and we are worried that the producer who is supposed to go to the farm is targeted, it will create a huge problem for food security.
“For instance, farmers are not feed producers. They must get their feed from somebody else and if the trucks that bring the feed to their place are stopped, they won’t be able to produce.”
Masithela believes this also affects farmworkers who might lose their jobs as a result of the widespread anarchy. “No matter how angry we may be, the impact of what is happening in the country has a huge economic impact on society.”