Article by Ruvarashe Chirimuta
Electricity is a vital input required in the agricultural value chain. In agriculture, electricity runs irrigation equipment, machinery, and equipment, lights the farm, and maintains the life of livestock, poultry, and plants. It is also a requirement across the entire agricultural value chain to prevent food spoilage, heat or cool buildings, processing and manufacturing, and refrigeration to preserve products.
Farmers in many African countries have faced increasing challenges with obtaining stable and reliable power supply from the respective power utility companies in their countries. In some Southern African countries, electricity goes 6-12 hours daily, negatively impacting the income of farmers who now rely on expensive generators that run on fuel. The ongoing power cuts have also affected the quality of most agricultural products. Wastage of food has been prevalent due to load-shedding. Electricity plays a huge role in the healthy upbringing of chickens. Poultry farmers have also been severely affected as a result.
Commercial Farmers have been significantly affected too. Loadshedding harms irrigation-reliant and energy-intensive sectors like dairy, poultry, grains, horticulture, and agro-processing. Some commercial farmers have had to use irrigation equipment such as center pivots, electric pumps, and drip irrigation systems between midnight and 4 am when electricity is available. Electricity comes back at odd times and is available for a limited number of hours. Commercial farmers have found it hard to water the entire farm under such conditions. Load-shedding is affecting the productivity of several farms across the Southern African Region.
Could solar energy be an alternative? According to Mckinsey, more than 60 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is smallholder farmers. Affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy is at the heart of the effort to combat global hunger and poverty. However, most smallholder farmers in Africa need financial assistance to install a solar system that meets their farming needs. Therefore, most smallholder farmers on the continent continue to rely on electricity. This year, organizations such as The African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa) called on the government to subsidize farmers with alternative energy like solar panels and generators.
As food production costs go up due to load-shedding, food prices will inevitably also go up, affecting end consumers too. Load shedding has become an unwanted additional hurdle to the ones that already exist for farmers in Africa who are hard at work to provide food for their families and the nation. Access to quality, nutritious food is fundamental to human existence, and the need to address the current electricity crisis on behalf of farmers is an issue of utmost urgency.
Ruvarasge Chirimuta: Content Creator with a zeal for covering impactful Agribusiness stories from Africa.