BUSINESS MAVERICK

Farmers hit by diesel shortages caused by theft, says AgriSA

By Ed Stoddard 25 June 2020
Caption
Rising diesel theft is having an impact on the farming community. (Photo by Nardus Engelbrecht / Gallo Images via Getty Images)

The bottom line: farmers have been struggling to buy diesel for harvesting purposes. This could reduce the size of the harvests, including the staple maize, while raising costs.

Commercial farming group AgriSA has urged government to investigate what it says are serious shortages of diesel linked to theft and vandalism.

AgriSA said the shortages in part stemmed from “continuous vandalism and theft of diesel by well-organised syndicates from the diesel supply lines from Durban to Johannesburg. This poses a serious challenge to Transnet which is responsible for managing and maintaining the pipeline.

“It has resulted in diesel being transported by trucks from our ports, which in turn increases the cost. Farmers harvesting produce such as maize, citrus and other commodities at this point in time are particularly hard hit due to the increase in cost and the limited availability of diesel in particular provinces,” AgriSA said in a statement on Thursday 25 June.

“Transnet owns, manages and operates an underground network of 3,800km of high-pressure petroleum and gas pipelines. Since April this year, more than 30 fuel theft incidents have occurred on the pipeline during which more than two million litres of fuel were stolen. Thieves are increasingly damaging the pipelines and associated infrastructure to steal diesel,” AgriSA said.

“The thieves also trespass on farmland and threaten the safety of farming communities in the vicinity of the pipeline,” Agri said. 

Saret Knoetze, spokesperson for Transnet pipelines, confirmed the numbers and told Business Maverick that there has been a “plague” of incidents that Transnet was trying to curb in cooperation with law enforcement agencies. 

“We are only transporting diesel from the coastal refinery to the inland market as the two inland refineries are not producing diesel because of shutdowns during lockdown. On the main pipeline from Durban to Heidelberg there has been a theft incident in the Van Reenan area which we are currently busy repairing. We do have some buffer stock available which will be distributed to the clients,” she said. Transnet is also appealing to landowners along the pipeline route to be vigilant.

The bottom line: farmers have been struggling to buy diesel for harvesting purposes. This could reduce the size of the harvests including the staple maize while raising costs. This trend, in turn, could fuel food inflation, which remains relatively muted and will have its biggest impact on the swelling ranks of the poor at a time when hunger is on the rise.

There have been no reports of fuel shortages in urban areas that Business Maverick is aware of but demand has been stifled by the lockdown and travel restrictions. However, industrial demand on commercial farms has certainly risen. South Africa’s 2020 commercial maize harvest is seen up 38% on last year at just over 15.5 million tonnes, the government’s Crop Estimates Committee (CEC) said on Thursday in its latest forecast.

“Agri SA has been monitoring the diesel supply disruptions from the onset and has been part of a weekly meeting with the South African Petroleum Industry Association (SAPIA) to receive feedback and to convey the status of the diesel supply constraints experienced by our members in each province. The situation on the ground, however, differs from the picture often painted by those responsible for managing the supply of diesel,” AgriSA said. 

SAPIA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The last thing South Africa’s cratering economy needs as it tries to reboot is a looming fuel shortage caused by crime. BM/DM

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