Food crisis loading? Products at risk of going off and animal feed stuck at Durban port

Present situation is a 'perfect storm' that could lead to food shortages in the coming weeks, two organisations warn

29 July 2021 - 10:18 By TimesLIVE
SA imports chicken to augment local production to meet the needs of local consumers. while the country’s processed meat sector also relies heavily on imported ingredients. Stock photo
SA imports chicken to augment local production to meet the needs of local consumers. while the country’s processed meat sector also relies heavily on imported ingredients. Stock photo
Image: Buyfresh

SA has a “food crisis in the making” as a result of the recent unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and a cybersecurity hack on Transnet’s IT systems, with perishable food and animal feed languishing in the Durban port. 

The SA Meat Processors Association (Sampa) and SA Association of Meat Importers & Exporters (AMIE SA) are calling for an urgent action plan by government to ensure imported perishable food containers are rerouted to inland cold storage facilities, as KZN facilities have been severely affected by the unrest.

“There are major backlogs for both exports and imports in the Durban port. The port is running short of space to store containers and running out of plug points used to keep containers cool, which will result in massive food wastage if not resolved immediately,” the associations said.

“Exacerbating the matter is that the events of the past two weeks have severely affected key cold storage infrastructure in the province.”

There are 290 temperature-controlled containers, “which require an urgent cold storage remedy, with many more containers en route from international markets to offload at the port of Durban”.

“Besides requiring an urgent solution for cold storage of containers, an additional complication lies in the microbiological, phytosanitary testing of food product coming into the port, and the authorities' curtailed capacity to test arriving product due to the damage to some testing labs.”

The groups have written to the government to allow fully sealed containers to be transported to inland cold storage facilities, where the inland veterinary teams can follow normal testing and release procedures.

The associations say the present situation is a “perfect storm” that could lead to food shortages in the coming weeks.

“This is not a matter that can only be resolved by Transnet. We need the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development, and the department of trade, industry and competition to intervene to implement a solution with speed, and to communicate that plan with all stakeholders,” said Peter Gordon, CEO of Sampa.

“Even if testing was able to resume to normal levels, there is nowhere to send cleared products to, as processors and cold storage facilities have been destroyed, damaged or closed during the unrest.”

The current blockages are not only impacting importers, but also exporters of South African products, including fruit and wine. We are already seeing a knock-on effect across the entire food value chain.
Paul Matthew, CEO of AMIE SA

SA’s processed meat sector relies heavily on imported ingredients for the production of processed meats, such as polony, viennas and russians. SA also imports chicken to augment local production to meet the needs of local consumers.

Local poultry and pork producers are also affected, as they import animal feed, which is also being held up in the port, said the associations.

“We estimate that it will take between three- and 18 months to rebuild, repair and resume operations at strategic cold storage and processing facilities that were affected in the province. The current blockages are not only impacting importers, but also exporters of South African products, including fruit and wine. We are already seeing a knock-on effect across the entire food value chain.

“As animal feed is bottlenecked in the port, farmers are unable to feed their livestock, and are having to slaughter their animals. The issue is that abattoirs have a limited capacity, so the entire system is under threat,” said Paul Matthew, CEO of AMIE SA.

Western Cape finance and economic opportunities MEC David Maynier said on Thursday the IT disruptions had a significant impact on operations at the Port of Cape Town.

“In total, seven days of full operation have been lost with more than 10,000 containers delayed and two vessels having bypassed the Port of Cape Town. Three vessels, which should have been completed, are still at berth, while six container vessels are waiting at anchorage, all of which should have berthed by now,” he said in a statement.

While the announcement by public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan that there had been a breakthrough in Transnet’s IT security breach and that full operations were being  restored at ports was welcome news, “we remain concerned about the delays which have resulted”, he added.

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