Unrest hits farming, threatens food supply
SA farmers have been hit by days of unrest and looting as trucks carrying produce are prevented from delivering to markets and threatening food supplies, industry officials said.
Crowds have this week clashed with police and ransacked shopping malls, with dozens reported killed as grievances unleashed by last week’s jailing of former president Jacob Zuma boiled over into the worst violence in years.
Some of the country’s major highways have been closed.
“Farmers have experienced major losses because they cannot get their products to local markets and shops,” said Christo van der Rheede, executive director at the country’s main agricultural body Agri SA.
One of Agri SA’s farmers has reported the loss of R3m worth of perishable produce that could not be transported, he said.
All sugar mills in KwaZulu-Natal — the main sugar growing area and one of the provinces hardest hit by the unrest — have closed after cane trucks were hijacked, mills threatened and cane farms set alight, said SA Canegrowers CEO Dr Thomas Funke.
“Around 300,000 tonnes of cane has been burned to date. This is roughly R180m of grower revenue,” he said.
Sugar producer Tongaat Hulett said its mills and refinery were closed.
Citrus Growers Association CEO Justin Chadwick said citrus exports had been halted, with trucks unable to use the main arterial roads to the Durban port, where more than half of the citrus is exported.
SA is the world's second largest exporter of fresh citrus after Spain.
President Cyril Ramaphosa warned on Monday that disruption to supply chains could lead to food and medicine shortages in the coming weeks.
The impact was already being seen in Durban. On Tuesday, consumers stood in queues at a few supermarkets that remained open to buy basics. In some areas, where supermarkets remained closed, panic was setting in over food supplies.
“All the shops are closed. We are going to run out of bread soon,” said Neli Zulu, a resident of Pietermaritzburg, which is one of the areas badly affected by the unrest.