Agriculture sector calls for emergency plan on transporting food to South Africa in case of possible future unrest
DURBAN – WITH future incidents of looting and possible unrest, an agricultural expert warned that contingency plans were needed to ensure the safe transport of food and other vital supplies across the country.
Agriculture expert Theo Boshoff, during a recent webinar on agribusiness hosted by the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, called for greater consideration of rail transport as a means of moving goods, especially food.
Boshoff’s comments referred to the complete disruption of the food supply chain during the July unrest, with the N2 and N3 roads being closed due to violence and looting from trucks, and the port’s inability to move the goods.
Boshoff, of the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz), said businesses in KwaZulu-Natal alone suffered losses amounting to more than Rand 1.23 billion in the July unrest.
“There is no reason to believe that this (the riots) will not happen again in the future, and that is why other forms of transport, including rail, should be considered,” Boshoff said. .
Sandy la Marque, the general manager of the Agricultural Union of KwaZulu-Natal (Kwanalu), agreed that measures must be taken to ensure efficient transport of goods.
She said the unrest continued to have a continuing impact on the agricultural sector and the value chain as a whole.
“There are still significant challenges with the movement of goods, especially out of the port of Durban. It has serious implications for the grain industry and others.
Asked about the option of transporting goods by rail, La Marque said that the movement of goods would ideally be on a rail network.
“The current experience is that the road network is under strain and cannot be maintained with the volume of goods transported. “
However, she added that the existing rail network was also facing its challenges.
“Perhaps more could and should be done to move freight transport to an efficient and safe rail network. “
Industry experts, economists and academics have said the current rail network is hampered by significant problems and is unlikely to be a viable option for freight transportation.
Economist Prof Bonke Dumisa said rail is much more expensive and will have a negative impact on the food value chain.
“Businesses use road transport because rail has proven to be a very unreliable mode of transport,” he said.
“In terms of product safety, there is a proportionally higher theft rate on rail than on road transport. Delivery times are more reliable on road transport than on rail.
Road Freight Association chief executive Gavin Kelly echoed Dumisa’s sentiment, stressing that the focus should be on the safety of the road network as it remains the most efficient mode available.
“There is no guarantee that the rail will not be attacked. We have seen incidents of looting of goods when trains are on sidings and even some along roads when the power is cut. The problem isn’t how they travel, but how to make sure the crime is dealt with, ”Kelly said.
Professor Irrshad Kaseeram, Deputy Dean of Research at the Department of Economics at the University of Zululand, stressed that investments in rail infrastructure are expensive and will take a long time to pay off.
Transport expert Malcolm Hartwell, from Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa, said that while rail transport would not be viable for transporting food, if used optimally it would help ease the load on the country’s road network.
“There was a time when 80% of goods were transported by rail and the rest by road. That has changed over the years, ”Hartwell said.
He added that items such as coal, iron ore and other minerals would have to be transported by rail, as this would lighten the heavy load on the roads.
Hartwell said given the high cost of investing in infrastructure, the government should consider entering into a public-private partnership as a way to finance the operation, noting that this path has been followed by other developing countries.