Pitso Sekhoto of the African Farmers Association of South Africa has warned that the country will reach a point where the supply of food cannot be guaranteed, with deteriorating infrastructure preventing farmers from getting their produce to market.
Sekhoto issued this warning during an interview on eNCA, where he outlined South African farmers’ difficult situation.
“We are in a very, very bad situation because of authorities not doing what they are supposed to do”, with local government’s failure to maintain critical infrastructure.
Sekhoto said municipalities and provincial governments are responsible for South African agriculture’s mess.
“They do not take agriculture seriously”, as farmers have been raising these issues regularly for the last few years, and nothing has been done. Infrastructure maintenance is non-existent, placing farmers on the back foot.
Farmers are not only struggling to get their produce to market but are also increasingly struggling to get supplies, with diesel being particularly difficult to source and deliver.
This exacerbates the problems farmers are facing with load-shedding interrupting their operations.
“If we do not fix these problems, we will reach a point where we are food insecure in South Africa”.
If farmers had access to high-quality, functional infrastructure, the sector would be booming and provide significant employment opportunities to unskilled labourers.
High-quality infrastructure also makes South Africa’s agricultural exports globally competitive, as local produce can get to market more efficiently and at a lower cost.
The solution is for local government to spend their budget on what it is intended for, as substantial resources are committed to maintaining infrastructure.
However, Sekhoto said that most of the money ends up in the wrong places, with most of it going to corrupt politicians or fruitless and wasteful expenditures.
“It is coming to hit us hard if we cannot deal with these issues”, he warned.
Food shortages on the horizon
The Consumer Goods Council of South Africa has also warned of food shortages which can lead to a repeat of the July 2021 riots which ravaged parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
Zinhle Tyikwe, CEO of the Consumer Goods Council, told Business Day TV that around 50% of South Africans go hungry and that 50% of food gets wasted.
Load-shedding exacerbated the situation, causing more food to get wasted and more people going hungry.
Tyikwe said that with prolonged power outages, shops would have to close, and there will be increased food wastage. It will also impact food security.
Load-shedding further increases the operational cost for food retailers, which is passed on to consumers.
Food inflation is devastating to many South Africans who rely on social grants and are already stretched to make ends meet.
The Consumer Goods Council of South Africa’s concerns echo warnings from Pick n Pay’s CEO Pieter Boone and chairman Gareth Ackerman.
Boone warned South Africa is at increased risk of food shortages and social unrest as load-shedding moves to higher stages.
“It is no longer a question of pricing, but rather whether you can secure stock to serve your customers,” he said.
He added that higher stages of load-shedding also affect the water supply in many parts of the country.
When people struggle to get food and water, it causes severe social problems and can lead to civil unrest.
“That is my biggest fear – potential social unrest. We cannot afford a second wave of social unrest in South Africa,” he said.