They damage farm products.

South Africa’s consumers are paying more because of potholed roads and a stalled railway system.

Speaking at a briefing in Midrand yesterday , Carl Opperman, chief executive of farming and agriculture body Agri Wes-Cape, said: “In the Western Cape, it is a crisis.”

Potholed roads were an example of the country’s poor infrastructure, he said. Farmers are faced with this problem every time they transport their deciduous fruit . And by the time the fruit arrived at its destination it was “liqui-fruit”.

The lower the supply of fruit in the market, the higher the price for consumers.

It also means lost income for farmers because damaged fruit cannot be exported.

Neels Ferreira, the chairman of Grain South Africa, said the lack of a functioning railway system also added significantly to the price of basic foodstuffs.

“A ship comes into the harbour, it carries 40, 000 to 45, 000 tons of wheat.

“It used to be offloaded into a silo, and from the silo to rail cars, but now, because there are no rail cars, they just load the silo until it gets full,” he said.

The ship has to wait until it can offload the rest of its cargo — at a cost of $90, 000 (R698 000) a day.

“That $90, 000 a day is added to the cost of wheat … the end consumer pays for that,” Ferreira said.

But it is not all bad news, as higher global prices will boost South Africa’s farming sector, said Lourie Bosman, president of Agri SA.

“In South Africa we have seen in the last two years a fairly sharp increase in food prices.

“There is huge demand in the East as developing countries are earning more money and therefore demanding more food,” he said.

“The world cannot supply enough food, therefore fortunately prices have increased — I say fortunately because farmers can only farm if they can make a profit,” Bosman said.

He said the country had “shed farmers” in 2002 and 2003 because prices were so low, but now that “world supplies have decreased and the government can’t import cheap wheat, it is economically viable to go back to wheat production”.
However, the speakers agreed that the problem of food affordability will hit South Africa hard, and the government needs to plan better to offset a real food crisis in the country.

“First World countries’ governments have announced plans regarding food security, but not sub-Saharan Africa where the poorest people in the world live,” Ferreira said.

“In South Africa we have seen an increase in income for the poor, but there is still a lack of employment opportunities and people cannot afford food.

“We need a government that supports poor people,” said Bosman.