Agriculture is mutilated by weak ports

Farmers exporting fruit face poor service delivery, negligence and incompetence at South African ports. This results in producers suffering millions of rands in damage, the erosion of South African competitiveness in international markets and job losses in rural areas. The government’s preoccupation with cadre deployment not only leads to the implosion of state functions and the destruction of infrastructure and economic capacity but impoverishes South Africa at all levels. The poorest part of the population suffers the most from job cuts of in rural areas.

Fruit has a limited shelf life and must meet super high standards to compete against products from Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Argentina and other continents for a place on store shelves in Europe, America and other countries. Inspectors visit farms at a high cost to the farmers to certify that their production processes meet those standards. However, the state’s extensive inability fails the process. Table grapes in a container must be transported at -0,5 ˚C in a cold chain from the warehouse to the market in Europe or the USA. Farmers pay for it, as well as for the packaging, insurance and handling of that fruit. It keeps towns going. However, the extremely poor handling of those containers in the ports means that thousands of tons of fruit have to be destroyed even before being loaded onto a ship.

Fluctuating temperatures cause irreparable damage to the fruit. Advanced technology enables farmers to track the temperature in containers on their cell phones in real time. Temperatures start fluctuating each time a container enters a port premises. The ports are not equipped with generators to protect them from load shedding like warehouses on farms. Port personnel often handle containers harshly, and they do not connect them to power. The containers are often kept weeks longer than scheduled in storage sites before being loaded.

The ports are not subjected to the same high standards as the producers. When thousands of tons of fruit are destroyed due to poor handling and negligence in the docks, the farmers lose the cargo and still have to pay for the packaging, administration, and logistics. One producer of table grapes in Vredenburg has already lost 18 containers of grapes from the 2022 harvest.

Farmers are also not allowed to take care of or inspect their containers at ports themselves. They are at the mercy of the incompetent port staff. No one accepts responsibility, and no insurance company is willing to insure the fruit on the port premises.

To protect their value chains and businesses against the state, farmers push in vain for the privatisation of the ports. Some have interests in neighbouring countries and can export the containers by road to better-managed ports. However, many hectares of fruit have already been replaced by industries with more manageable risks and that are less vulnerable to government failure. This way, thousands of jobs are lost.

Saai is extremely concerned about the impact the collapse of ports may have on the future of family farmers in export industries. Saai is particularly sceptical about the likelihood that docks and other transport infrastructure that collapsed during Fikile Mbalula’s term as minister of transport will become serviceable and efficient again under his management. Therefore, Saai agreed with export farmers to test the state’s liability in ports. We invite farmers who have already suffered damage or are threatened by the poor service delivery in ports to contact us.

Farmers suffering millions of rands in losses due to poor management in ports, and farm workers losing their jobs due to that, remain sceptical of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s promises of economic growth, technological development and job creation. Until a pursuit of efficiency replaces cadre deployment, the state will keep rotting and South Africa and its people will become more and more impoverished.