The Port of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal is running short of space to store containers and plug points to keep containers cool, which will result in massive food wastage if not resolved urgently.
According to a statement by the South African Meat Processors Association (Sampa) and the South African Association of Meat Importers & Exporters (Amie SA), there are currently 290 temperature-controlled ‘reefer’ containers that require an urgent cold storage remedy, with more containers en route from international markets set to offload at the Durban port.
Sampa and Amie SA note that the recent riots and looting severely impacted key cold storage infrastructure in the province, compounded by the recent cybersecurity hack on Transnet’s IT systems, which affected its operations and created major backlogs for both exports and imports at the port.
“Now that the Durban port has resumed operations, an urgent action plan by government is required to ensure imported perishable food containers are re-routed to inland cold storage facilities.
“This is critical if South Africa wants to avoid chronic food shortages across the country, specifically for the poorest who rely on affordable chicken and meat products such as polony as their primary sources of protein,” say the two associations in a statement.
“Besides requiring an urgent solution for cold storage of containers, an additional complication lies in the micro-biological, 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.”
Sampa and Amie SA say they have written to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) and the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic), recommending urgent intervention.
The solution the associations suggest would be to allow fully sealed containers to be transported to inland cold storage facilities where inland veterinary teams can follow normal testing and release procedures. In this process, consignments will be held in bond until cleared for release.
“This is not a matter that can only be resolved by Transnet. We need the DALRRD and dtic to intervene to implement a solution with speed, and to communicate that plan with all stakeholders,” says Sampa CEO Peter Gordon.
“Even if testing were able to resume to normal levels, there is nowhere to send cleared product to, as processors and cold storage facilities have been destroyed, damaged or closed during the unrest.”
Paul Matthew, CEO of AMIE SA, says: “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 impacted in the province.
The associations say that given the disruption to retail value chains, distribution and cold storage facilities, producers have had to ramp up their orders to replace what was lost in the value chain. Consequently, it is expected that the problem will be exacerbated in the weeks ahead.
The associations deem the situation a ‘perfect storm’ that could lead to food shortages over the coming weeks, given that the country’s processed meat sector relies heavily on imported ingredients for the production of processed meats such as polony, Viennas and Russians.
Sampa and Amie SA add that South Africa is unable to produce mechanically deboned meat (MDM) in sufficient quantities, therefore it is imperative that the ingredients are imported.
“In May 2021 prior to the unrest, 16 000 tons of MDM was imported to South Africa, 75% of which came into the country via the Durban port. Much of this product is destined for inland producers who employ thousands and feed millions of South Africans,” the statement said.
“South Africa also imports chicken to augment local production to meet the needs of local consumers. Local poultry and pork producers are also being impacted as they import animal feed, which is also being held up in the port,” said Matthew.
“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.”
The blockages are also impacting exporters of South African products, including fruit and wine.
Palesa Mofokeng is a Moneyweb intern