SOUTH AFRICA – Speaking at an interview, South Africa’s Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza said the government has contingency plans in place to safeguard key food-production facilities against an escalation in power cuts that are already at record levels.

The country’s economy has been subject to rolling blackouts, known locally as load-shedding since 2008.

The load-shedding has been a result of old and poorly maintained power production plants owned by the state power utility Eskom Holdings, which have been unable to meet demand.

“There is a plan in place already,” Didiza said, to deal with the increasing outages, which she approximated to be 8000 MW or more cut from the grid.

In the interview with Bloomberg, Minister Didiza said short-term measures have already been taken to ensure abattoirs can continue operating and animal vaccines are protected, she added.

In the longer term, the government is looking at how best to further assist farmers who want to install solar panels and batteries to reduce their reliance on the grid, according to the minister.

She further noted that financing could be made available from existing institutions, such as the state-owned Land and Agricultural Development Bank of South Africa and the Industrial Development Corporation.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa declared load-shedding a national state of disaster to respond to the electricity crisis and its effect that had started to bite into many of the country’s food companies’ profits.

On average, small-scale farmers are currently spending an additional R10 000 a month on diesel, while the bill for commercial food producers is about ten times that figure, agriculture department data show.

To lessen the impact of the crisis on the economy, Ramaphosa announced proposals, which include a bounce-back loan scheme to help small businesses invest in solar equipment and investment in power infrastructure. He outlined deals to source energy from private companies as well as neighboring countries.

In addition, Didiza said the government and its stakeholders are considering a range of other options that will help in mitigating the effects of load-shedding on farmers.

The options include the feasibility of exempting them from outages, scheduling blackouts outside of their operating hours, or connecting farms to mini-grids.

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