Tough economic conditions and Eskom’s recent string of power cuts – the worst in over two years – are strangling South Africa’s farmers. But for food producers, manufacturers and processors, the key to withstanding the worst of Mzansi’s load shedding might be closer to home than they think.
According to Dr Naudé Malan, senior lecturer at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and founder of iZindaba Zokudla, a Soweto-based farmers’ lab, farmers can win the fight against load shedding. However, they need to think economically and implement power saving strategies with existing farm infrastructure.
“If you can’t save now, you are never going to win this load shedding fight,” Malan shared with farmers on Wednesday evening, 13 July, during Food For Mzansi’s #GatherToGrow session on twitter.
“You need to save even with the existing infrastructure. After that [you can] design and plan a transition to alternative technologies and then slowly start acquiring them. That, really is our only choice [for now, considering that] it will be five to six more years before we will have energy security.”
Malan also advised farmers to scrutinise their electricity usage. “Look at lights that are on during the day. These pilot lights on television, radios and computers, laptops that stay on all day, they use up to 15% of your energy. That’s a lot.”
He added that the money farmers invest into saving with existing infrastructure will give them much higher returns, as opposed to replacing infrastructure with solar panels and such.
A dairy farmer’s solution
Load shedding has already increased the cost of production for farmers at a time when South Africans are facing food price increases and are under unprecedented economic pressure.
KwaZulu-Natal dairy farmer Thabo Skhosana said the severe power cuts is a hard knock for a dairy business. Dairy farming, he pointed out, is highly mechanised comprising of both irrigation dependency and energy intensity.
“Every dairy operation requires electricity at least twice a day… At our farm we have two schedules for milking; one at 03:30 and the second one at 13:00.
“These are the times which inevitably coincide with the load shedding periods and we have to make adjustments according to that,” Skhosana said.
He also explained that after the cows are milked, the milk needs to be stored immediately in a temperature controlled tank. This is because without electricity to power the tank the milk loses its preservative value and Skhosana loses a market for his milk.
Skhosana’s advice to farmers is to invest in generators and diesel tanks. “We use generators when the power goes off… Yes, fuel prices are [also] a problem but when the [fuel] prices are stagnant we buy as much diesel as possible before the price increases again.”
Skhosana stores the diesel in a diesel tank which he uses to carry them until the next fuel hike.
While farmers may share a different view, there is a silver lining in these tough times, Malan pointed out. “High food prices mean higher [farmgate] prices for farmers.”
Malan does, however, admit that higher prices could be taken away by the rising input costs. Input costs always rise faster than the prices farmers can get, he added. This ultimately almost always left the farmer on the back foot.
*The Twitter session was recorded and the full conversation will soon be available on Food For Mzansi. Next week’s session will be hosted on Wednesday, 20 July and focus on energy alternatives.
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