Loadshedding is increasing food costs, threatening food security

Eskom’s loadshedding, headed for the worst year on record in 2023, is increasing the cost of food, making it harder for consumers, especially poor people, to afford adequate food.

Agricultural Business Chamber chief executive Theo Boshoff told Sunday World they have sent questionnaires to about 500 agri-businesses earlier this year looking at the potential impact of stage five to six loadshedding.

“Cost is the biggest impact on these agri-businesses due to load shedding. The average agri-business is spending money on diesel generators at a huge additional cost, which has a knock-on effect on food prices. The impact of all this is that food becomes more expensive – it is not physical food shortages,” he added.

Boshoff said that given the poverty and unemployment rates that South Africa faced, there was already a portion of the local population that was food insecure.

“With food price inflation going up due to loadshedding – that is the biggest risk to food security.”

Grain South Africa chief economist Corne Louw told Sunday World the critical aspect that load shedding added to the local production of crucial grains like maize, wheat, and soybeans was high costs and higher prices for grain products like maize meal and bread.

“Grain is South Africa’s staple food, and higher grain prices add to existing inflation pressures,” he added.

Consumer price data from Statistics South Africa shows local food prices were up 14.4% over the year ended March. According to the trading economics website, that is the highest rate of local food inflation since 2009.

The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group, in its report for April 2023, found that the average South African household food basket had increased by 11% over the year to R2,745, up from R2,414 in April 2022.

Essential items to increase over the year include a 25% increase in the cost of a 30kg bag of maize meal to almost R316, and a 10kg bag of cake flour has gone up by 20% to R126.

“The high cost of core staple foods results in a lot of proper nutritious food being removed off the family plates. The consequences of high costs on the core foods harm overall household health and wellbeing, and child development,” the report said.

Eskom’s woes are increasing pressure on local poultry producers.

In a statement earlier this month, the South African Poultry Association (Sapa) general manager for egg organisation Abongile Balarane said eggs were one of the most affordable animal protein sources but were increasing in cost.

The hike in Eskom’s power tariffs by 18.5% from 1 April has added more pressure on the egg producers.

“It is estimated that the variable costs to produce an egg, including electricity, fuels and feed, have increased from about 70% to 80%. Recently these soaring costs, combined with Eskom’s erratic electricity supply, have forced many producers to exit the industry,” Balarane said.

South Africa Poultry Association (Sapa) general manager for the broiler industry, Izaak Breitenbach, told Sunday World power cuts were increasing poultry farm costs, but load shedding’s significant impact was on the poultry slaughterhouses.

“We are concerned about the coming winter and possibly higher levels of load shedding, which could cause a chicken shortage. The industry cannot sustain normal poultry output if we have high levels of load shedding,” Breitenbach said.

“Poultry is the go-to animal protein for consumers, which will impact food security. In addition, poultry meat prices are at an all-time high because of high raw material costs, including maize and soyabean costs,’ he added.

Over the last year, the high chicken prices have reduced local total chicken consumption.
“Unfortunately, this impacts food security as people cannot buy poultry products and instead buy cheaper products like polonies and plant-based proteins,” Breitenbach said.

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