by Michelle van der Spuy
The government will draw more benefits from supporting agriculture during the power crisis than it will cost them to do so.
“We convened with Eskom to see how we could make it more manageable for the farming industry and how Eskom can view agriculture as an essential industry, similarly to how it found solutions for the health industry,” says Thoko Didiza, Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, during the yearly Hop Harvest Tour in George.
Zoleka Lisa, vice president of corporate affairs at SA Breweries, says 1 227 farmers who produce for the company are experiencing difficulty due to loadshedding.
“We cannot take this lightly. Yes, as the private sector, we are looking for investments in alternative energy. We already have solar power systems at our breweries; where possible, solar power is used for irrigation. But with the current crisis, we must look for a way to protect the industry.”
According to Minister Didiza, the ministerial loadshedding task team put together by her portfolio committee has already delivered results.
They have, among other things, requested that concentrated irrigation areas be subjected to less serious loadshedding. According to the task team, small-scale farmers currently spend about R10 000 per month on diesel and commercial farmers about R100 000 per month.
“All businesses are channelling capital away from expansion and rather towards investments in backup power generation. Fruit, vegetables and crops can deliver smaller yields due to loadshedding; the milk and poultry industries were hit hard and real temporary shortages are possible for animal feed and packaging. Consumers will probably feel the impact of increased cost more than availability.”
Minister Didiza says Eskom has made certain suggestions that have already been communicated to the industry. These include, among other things, a reduction where farmers agree to have more loadshedding during certain parts of the day when they do not need to irrigate.
“As the government, we have agreed that we need to support this industry. The yields will be much bigger than the investment that the government can make to support the industry.”
Her department is also in discussions with the Treasury regarding the proposed tax relief due to loadshedding.
“We are looking to see what we can do within our own budget to intervene to such an extent that we can go ahead with business.”
According to Minister Didiza, meaningful partnerships between the government and the private sector will have to help to pull this through – similarly to when the Covid-19 pandemic impaired the wine and beer industries under the ban on liquor trade.
“As the government, it is our role to create an enabling environment through policy and regulation but, at the end of the day, the farmers, agricultural businesses and farm workers will help the industry survive. If we work together in meaningful partnerships we can achieve more within the industry and our economy.