Didiza says it is essential farmers are protected from load shedding

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Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza says they are still in talks with Eskom to protect the agriculture sector from load shedding. She was speaking during a visit to a hops farm near George in the Western Cape. Hops harvest season has kicked off but due to load shedding, the yield is less than normal. Didiza says they need to find ways to ensure that farmers are able to irrigate.

For six weeks, more than 1 500 seasonal jobs are created, with nearly a hundred million rand being pumped into the local economy. George is the only area in the whole of Africa where hops grow successfully. But like any other industry these days, load shedding is having a negative impact on hops farming. It is one of the most important ingredients in the most well-known beer brands of South Africa and it only grows in George on 409 hectares.

“Our hop industry is actually at 34 degrees south. That means it’s grown at a totally unique latitude. Everyone else grows between 40 and 45 degrees north or south. So nowhere else in the world do we grow at such unique latitude, which means we have short days and not cold winters we’re supposed to have. It’s a totally different environment.  And according to the rest of the world, we were never supposed to grow hops here, but we did it,” says Plant manager Rob Roy SAB Lauren Steytler.

Hops, together with barley and maize contribute to the multi-billion-rand beer brewing industry. To kick off the hops harvesting Didiza joined a tour to a local hops farm. She says the industry is a major contributor to revenue for the country and also jobs for its citizens.

“Also, in job creation because a number of people who get employed all through the season, not just on the production cycle, looking after the plants, harvesting, removing alien vegetation where you need expansion. All of those jobs are important,” says Didiza.

Due to load shedding, irrigation is being impacted which means the yield is less than normal. Government is however in talks with Eskom to find ways of protecting the agriculture sector.

“Eskom came back to us to say we can look particularly in concentrated areas at load curtailment, if for instance you have concentrated farmers in a particular area who are irrigating at the same time, if it’s about 4pm to 7pm, then in negotiating with Eskom curtailment they will then frontload load shedding maybe in the morning so that when they need to irrigate, they then get released,” Didiza added.

Nine hops’ varieties are produced in George which are locally utilized and exported internationally.