GRAIN SA on Friday again raised the prospect of “food riots” as a result of an expected hike in food prices caused by persistent drought conditions in the country.
Briefing Parliament’s portfolio committee on agriculture, Grain South Africa CEO Jannie de Villiers said South Africans should brace for a tough year ahead as the country was set to import millions of tonnes of grain as a result of low yields brought on by the drought.
“We have done a study of what happened in 2007/2008 in the world where the Arab spring took place and there’s some work being done that says there’s a high correlation when you’ve got high food prices and food riots. There’s a big possibility that it could happen in South Africa,” said De Villiers.
“When we look at what’s going to happen to food prices, we see it’s going to increase substantially and there might be that there’s going to be some public revolt about that.”
The biggest challenge for 2016, according to Grain SA, was to bring enough food into the country.
South Africa’s agriculture department predicts South Africa would have to import 3.8 million tonnes of maize to keep the nation fed.
“The 3.8 million tonnes [of possible imports]is based on a crop estimate of 7.4 million tonnes [locally]and as we’ve seen it hasn’t rained in the producing areas and that 7.4 might be very optimistic,” said De Villiers.
“The problem for 2017 is, can the farmers plant again if the rain comes because they might not have the cash to do it.”
He said the agriculture sector, government and captains of industry had to sit down and work out how it would cushion the poor against the devastating effects of the drought, specifically soaring food prices.
“The food is going to be expensive. There’s lots of people who won’t afford that and they are going to be in trouble and and we need to put some food security net in place to help them.”
In addition to maize, other grains would also have to be imported. Early estimates suggest two million tonnes of wheat needed to be imported, 900 000 tonnes of rice, 300 000 tonnes of soya beans, 100 000 tonnes of sunflower seeds, 60 000 tones of barley, and 20 000 tonnes of peanuts.
Meanwhile Reuters reports that Zimbabwe‘s main hydro power dam could stop producing electricity in six months if water levels keep falling after the nation’s worst drought in more than two decades, an official said on Friday.
Zimbabwe and neighbouring Zambia both rely heavily on the Kariba dam for electricity, and falling dam levels at the plant raises the threat of deeper power cuts in the two countries which are already faced with frequent power shortages.
Kenneth Maswera, Kariba Power Station’s general manager told reporters that dam levels were at 12 percent of capacity, a level last recorded in 1992 during a severe drought.
“We’ve not received any significant inflows, basically the level is going to continue going down if we don’t get any flows into the lake,” said Maswera in Kariba town, 390 km (242 miles) northwest of the capital Harare.
Without any new inflows, the dam would only generate power for the next 165 days, Maswera said.
Supplies from Kariba, which has an installed generating capacity of 750 megawatts (MW), were at 285 MW now, he said.
Zimbabwe is importing 300 MW of electricity from South Africa’s power utility Eskom and another 40 MW from Mozambique, which has eased the power cuts, officials say.
The drought has left 3 million people in need of food aid in Zimbabwe, and farmers in Zimbabwe have lost cattle and crops to drought but fear the worst is yet to come