Shoddy roads taking toll on farmers

Crumbling roads are hurting Eastern Cape farmers’ pockets as maintenance, damage to vehicles and produce along with delivery delays are steadily taking their toll on the agriculture sector’s economic contribution to the country.

This will eventually translate into a financial impact on consumers as the cost of agricultural production increases.

A recent survey by Agri SA put the spotlight on SA’s deteriorating roads, revealing that commercial farmers each spend an annual average of R200,000 from their own pockets to repair roads.

As much as 94% of all produce in SA is transported by road.

Farmers are also spending more on the maintenance of their own vehicles or paying more for transport contractors to collect and deliver goods.

Agri SA’s agricultural economist, Kulani Siweya, said the findings of the survey of commercial farmers showed that deteriorating road infrastructure was incurring huge costs for producers of agricultural commodities.

“The survey revealed that participating farmers relied on road transportation to move an average of 94% of their produce,” Siweya said.

“On average, participants transported an estimated R23m worth of agricultural produce by road in the last financial year.

“The consequences of the challenges related to deteriorating roads are varied and costly for SA’s food producers.”

South African Citrus Growers’ Association chair Hannes de Waal said the main arterial routes to and from citrus-producing areas were in dire need of maintenance.

“These roads are in a terrible state.

“We are not even certain if there is any budget available for repairs and maintenance to gravel roads, which are desperately needed.”

De Waal said fruit transported on bumpy roads was also in danger of sustaining oleocellosis, a condition that occurs when oils are released from the fruit peels when they sustain excessive friction and bruising.

This compromises the quality of the fruit and could affect  the demand from international export markets.

Agricultural Business Chamber chief economist Wandile Sihlobo said: “Operational costs have increased notably, partly because of unmaintained roads and lack of basic services, which have forced some businesses to perform functions that should be done by the municipalities.”

According to the survey, 13% of the respondents relied on road transportation weekly while more than 87% relied on the roads daily. Almost 70% of the respondents had attempted to fix affected roads themselves.

The vast majority of respondents indicated that they experienced operational challenges due to the poor road conditions, losing an estimated 16% in turnover during the last financial year.

Transport department spokesperson Unathi Binqose said they shared the agricultural sector’s concerns.

“We are experiencing huge backlogs and inclement weather conditions in areas where we are conducting maintenance have not helped the situation at all.”

He said several meetings had been held with agricultural bodies and local government representatives since the start of 2022 and they hoped to assist the worst-affected areas as soon as possible.

Milk producers in the Eastern Cape are also concerned about road conditions.

Milk Producers Organisation acting chief executive Fanie Ferreira said transport was one of their producers’ three biggest expenses, along with electricity costs and farming products.

“Milk is always on the road as it needs to be transported from the farm to the processors, then to storage and finally to the market where consumers buy it.

“Everything needs to move quickly and smoothly, but road conditions often prevent that.”

Livestock farmers share similar concerns.

The Eastern Cape’s Red Meat Producers Organisation head, Charles van der Spuy, said their biggest concern was the safety and well-being of their animals.

“Many livestock farmers make use of specialised transport contractors. However, many of these contractors have refused to visit farms due to the state of the roads.

“This forces farmers to either transport animals themselves or to bring them to a central point where the contractors then collect them.”

HeraldLIVE

Rural roads and main arterial routes to agriculture hubs are a growing concern for the agricultural sector, as it leads to massive economic losses for farmers and industries in the Eastern Cape

TAR OR DIRT? Rural roads and main arterial routes to agriculture hubs are a growing concern for the agricultural sector, as it leads to massive economic losses for farmers and industries in the Eastern Cape
Image: MICHAEL PINYANA

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