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HomeInformationSouth African Agri products and local cold chains at huge risk due...

South African Agri products and local cold chains at huge risk due to loadshedding

Load shedding is the intentional and controlled reduction of electric power supplied to certain areas in order to prevent a total blackout or power failure.

In the case of South Africa, load-shedding is being implemented by the State-owned power utility Eskom in order to protect the power grid from collapsing.

The utility is unable to meet consumer demand due to aging infrastructure, lack of maintenance, delivery issues with coal, diesel prices, and several other reasons at various stages.

Load-shedding has severely and negatively impacted trade, industry, people’s living conditions, reputation, and the economy of South Africa creating inconsistency due to the various unpredictable stages of load-shedding.

SFR touched base with Christo van der Rheede – Chief Executive Officer of Agri SA on the topic of how load shedding is affecting South African agri customers and their exports.

1. What are some of the key issues facing Agri customers due to the load shedding..??

Loadshedding in South Africa is causing significant problems for the agricultural industry, such as damage to crops, issues with irrigation systems, decreased productivity, and added expenses for backup power sources.

The unpredictability of loadshedding makes it challenging for farmers to plan and run their operations effectively, which has resulted in financial losses and weaker competitiveness in the global market.

2. Has the load shedding affected imports and exports equally..??

Power outages have disrupted the flow of goods through the supply chain, from production to transportation and storage, leading to delays and higher costs for businesses, making it hard for them to compete in the global market.

Load shedding also affects exports, perishable goods such as fruits and vegetables may be spoiled or lose freshness due to lack of refrigeration during power cuts, resulting in loss of revenue and damage to the reputation of South African exports.

Furthermore, load shedding also affects imports, as ports, airports, and other infrastructure that handle goods are disrupted by power outages, resulting in delays in the delivery of goods and increased costs for businesses.

Overall, load shedding has a detrimental effect on both imports and exports in South Africa, by negatively impacting the entire supply chain, increasing costs, and decreasing the competitiveness of goods in the global market.

3. What are some of the mitigating factors that the farmers have to take to avoid issues relating to load shedding and what are some of the options being exercised..??

Mitigation factors include investing in backup power systems like generators, solar panels, or other forms of backup power to ensure that their operations can continue during power outages.

However, the added expense of generators or alternate energy sources, as well as high diesel costs, can and will be a significant financial burden. These added expenses are making it difficult for farmers to remain competitive and profitable in the long term.

4. Which commodities/products have been impacted in the main..??

The significant impact on crops includes citrus fruits, vegetables, grapes, berries, tree nuts, and field crops such as maize (summer crops). Wineries, in particular, may face difficulties during their upcoming harvest season due to the need for a consistent supply of electricity.

Furthermore, some dairy farmers have been forced to discard their milk as a result of the lack of refrigeration during power outages.

As per Georgina Crouth’s article, the see-sawing rolling blackout schedule is not only playing havoc with the economy, it is putting health and safety in peril.

Experts have warned that fluctuations in power supply and loadshedding could endanger the cold chain, which is a risk to food safety as noticeable increases in ambient temperature speed up spoilage in perishable foods.

Beyond a stomach upset, fever, and nausea, foodborne illness can manifest in far worse symptoms and even be fatal, especially in young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and immunocompromised people.

Retailer responsibility

Retailers have a particular responsibility to ensure that the food they sell to consumers is fit for consumption. The key to this is in maintaining the cold chain, which involves the entire supply side — from preparation to packaging, distribution, retail, display, and purchase — because once a prescribed temperature has been reached, it should be strictly maintained as far as possible, with minimal fluctuations in temperature tolerated, depending on the product type.

With loadshedding ramped up, stores now have additional processes to review food quality during outages, because, for every 10 minutes that stock is out of the cold chain, temperatures rise by 1ºC.

Interruption of that cold chain happens when a step of that cold chain is compromised at any time, as per food safety expert Prof Lucia Anelich.

How long it will take for there to be a problem is dependent on several factors, including the type of food product, whether it is frozen or refrigerated [frozen food will take longer to reach an undesirable temperature than a refrigerated product], whether there are any preservatives in the product that extends its shelf-life, whether it is a ready-to-eat food, ie food that does not need any cooking before consumption, whether it is raw and still needs to be cooked before consumption and, of course, the duration in the break of the cold chain.

Cold chain challenges due to loadshedding

Daily Maverick quoted Pick n Pay’s chief business transformation officer, David North as saying that all their stores had backup power.

However, severe loadshedding creates severe challenges for everyone.  Customers are inconvenienced when travelling, or shopping in centres where not everyone has backup power, and worry about whether they can keep products fresh when they get home. 

Loadshedding disrupts the production of food and creates stock challenges. Backup power is very expensive, and generators are not always designed to run for many hours on end.

Shoprite/Checkers, which has invested heavily in going off-grid, said it was confident it had taken sufficient steps to mitigate damage from the blackouts:

The Shoprite Group has made substantial investments over the years to equip all its supermarkets with alternative power solutions to enable uninterrupted operations, including keeping refrigerators and freezers running to protect perishable products during intermittent power cuts. It has become a standard specification for new stores,” a spokesperson said.

Spar has its own particular battles, as not all franchises are similarly equipped: many have full back-up during blackouts, but some stores prioritise refrigeration, freezers, basic lighting and till operation to reduce costs of running generators.

The power outages are certainly causing havoc with refrigeration and other appliances, as well as backup batteries and other alternative power sources, coming under increasing strain in the retail sector and across many other industries,” a Spar spokesperson said.

Woolworths is said to have destroyed a significant amount of refrigerated food on the back of a generator failure at the Plattekloof Woolworths.

As per Woolworths’s press office, “Most of our Woolworths stores have standby generator power supplies, enabling them to continue to trade despite Eskom’s capacity and maintenance issues.

The store’s emergency back-up generator keeps equipment like refrigeration units and tills, up and running, and provides adequate lighting. 

If the generator fails, the store will attempt to save the stock by moving cold chain products into the walk-in cooler / and frozen products into the walk-in freezers at the back of the store. Any cold chain products that go above 5ºC and frozen products above -18ºC would be isolated and will not be sold.

Hopefully, the South African government’s revised measures to combat loadshedding including the possibility of procuring electricity by ship work in favour of the agri products and cold chain and assists customers.


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