The South African Meat Processors Association (Sampa) and the South African Association of Meat Importers and Exporters (AMIE SA) have called for an action plan to ensure imported perishable food containers are re-routed to inland cold storage facilities, as KwaZulu-Natal facilities have been severely impacted by the recent unrest.
There are currently 290 temperature-controlled reefer containers at the Port of Durban, which require an urgent cold storage remedy, the entities state.
They add that many more containers are en route from international markets to offload at the Port of Durban.
The unrest in KwaZulu-Natal, compounded by the recent cybersecurity hack on State-owned logistics company Transnet’s information technology systems, has affected the Port of Durban's operations and has created major backlogs for exports and imports.
As a result, the port is running short on space to store containers and running out of plug points used to keep containers cool, which will result in massive food wastage if not resolved immediately. Exacerbating the matter is that the events of the past two weeks have severely impacted key cold storage infrastructure in the province, the associations say.
An additional complication lies in the micro-biological, phyto-sanitary testing of food product coming into the port, and the authorities' curtailed capacity to test arriving product owing to the damage done to some testing labs.
Sampa and AMIE SA 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 and a solution to allow fully sealed containers to be transported to inland cold storage facilities, where the inland veterinary teams can follow normal testing and release procedures. As part of 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 the 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 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,” he notes.
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 and it is expected that the problem will be exacerbated in the weeks ahead, he says.
South Africa’s processed meat sector relies heavily on imported ingredients for the production of processed meats, such as polony, viennas and russians.
The imported ingredients include mechanically deboned meat (MDM), which South Africa is unable to produce in sufficient quantities. In May, prior to the unrest, 16 000 t of MDM was imported into South Africa, 75% of which came into the country through the Durban port. Much of this product is destined for inland producers that employ thousands and feed millions of South Africans.
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 at the port.
“We estimate that it will take between 3 and 18 months to rebuild, repair and resume operations at strategic cold storage and processing facilities that were impacted in the province,” says AMIE SA CEO Paul Matthew.
“The current blockages are not only impacting importers, but also exporters of South African products, including fruit and wine.
"We are already seeing a knock-on effect across the entire food value chain. As animal feed is bottle-necked 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, and the entire system is under threat.”