The civil unrest began earlier this month in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Province with the blocking of major roads, and abruptly turned violent with widespread looting of shops, and burning of trucks, shopping malls and businesses.
Thereafter, this unrest spread quickly to some areas in the Gauteng Province. The local police force and enforcement authorities were overwhelmed and struggled to timely contain the widespread looting and destruction of infrastructure, noted the authors of a USDA report.
“While the situation seems to be stabilizing since the deployment of the army and involvement of some community members, the existing damage seems to be devastating already. In addition, there are still sporadic incidences in some areas concentrated in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Province, and there is uncertainty as to when the unrest will completely end,” according to that publication, released on Monday.
South Africa is generally a food secure country and a net exporter of agricultural and food products at a national level, noted the US agency.
However, it said the disruption of some supply chains, and the closure of ports, businesses, and roads, the destruction of infrastructure - particularly retail stores, warehouses, distribution centers and trucks - poses a risk to food accessibility, availability and affordability in affected areas.
“In addition, the closure of businesses is expected to result in job losses, further worsening the already high unemployment rate of 33%, and dampening the economic recovery outlook from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Last Thursday, July 15, the South African minister of agriculture, land reform, and rural development met with stakeholders in the food and agricultural sector to discuss the effects of the civil unrest on the country’s food supply, while CEO of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union, Sandy La Marque, told media outlets that the situation could pose a long-term crisis if farmers are unable to get their products to market.
"Feed for livestock, chickens, pigs and other animals is being depleted on farms. Milk producers are dumping their milk,” he told media outlet, Fin24.
According to the South African Milk Producers’ Organization (MPO), producers are dumping up to two million liters of milk a day in KwaZulu-Natal as milk cold storage trucks cannot access farms to collect, and they were unable to distribute.
Some dairy processing plants in that region were also damaged by the protests and need repairs before they can accept any milk again. In addition, said the MPO, certain farmers could not receive feed deliveries and supplements crucial for animal conditioning, and once lost, it may take months to rebuild commercial conditioning in dairy herds.
Durban Port closure
The USDA reported that Durban Port has also closed its operations due to blockages on the main roads linking the production areas to the port; to burning of trucks; and to staff shortages as people cannot travel to work.
Durban is the largest and busiest port in South Africa, and also services some surrounding landlocked Southern African countries. This is expected to severely impact food and agricultural trade, and the supply of inputs into South Africa, reads the report.
“Agricultural and food commodities that are expected to be impacted by the closure of the Durban Port include wheat, vegetable oils, rice, poultry, protein feeds, citrus, sugar, maize and maize products, soy meal, woodchips, beverages, and beer.”
The closure has also resulted in the temporary halting of South African exports, including agri-commodities such as citrus, sugar, and corn.
“Despite a temporary halt, corn exports are not expected to be severely impacted by the closure of the Durban port, and South Africa is on track to increase corn exports by almost 40% to 3.5 million MT this year. “This is based on Kwazulu-Natal not being a major producer of corn, and most corn stocks are stored in other provinces not currently impacted by the unrest or port closures,” commented the USDA team.
Though, a growing concern on the closure of the Durban port and major roads is the risk to the supply of inputs and fuels to the agricultural sector, they said.