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The condition of the Free State roads is very poor. It is unsafe to use the roads and the likelihood of accidents, which could result in loss of life, is high. This is according to Dr Jack Armour from Free State Agriculture. However, the deterioration of roads is not only problematic in the Free State, but also in most provinces in South Africa. The poor condition is seriously hindering growth in the agricultural sector.

These and other findings regarding South Africa’s deteriorating road infrastructure, were highlighted during a press conference held by Agri SA in Pretoria. Agri SA initiated a survey to determine the impact of deteriorating road infrastructure on the sector.

According to Kulani Siweya, chief economist at Agri SA, information was needed to bring the problems experienced by agricultural sector to the attention of the relevant government institutions regarding the condition of road infrastructure in rural areas. Agri SA embarked on an exercise to gather data on provincial roads that service the many farming communities per province that stand in near unusable conditions.

The effect of poor road maintenance on agriculture

The findings are dire and point to the enormous cost of South Africa’s poor road maintenance for the proper functioning and growth of the sector. The survey revealed that participating farmers relied on road transportation to move approximately 94% of their produce. On average, participants transported agricultural produce worth an estimated R23 million by road in the last financial year for a combined total of more than R7,1 billion. Some 13% of the respondents relied on road transportation weekly while more than 87% relied on roads daily.

This explains why 69% of the respondents had at some point attempted to fix affected roads themselves. The respondents on average incurred repair and other related costs of more the R200 000 per participant. While this may be affordable for the biggest sector players, it is untenable for South Africa’s small-scale farmers. All but two respondents experienced operational challenges because of the state of our roads, with an estimated average of 16% in turnover losses during the last financial year. The survey included participants from the five worst-affected provinces with 19% in horticulture, 30% in agronomy, and 51% in animal production.

The consequences of the challenges related to deteriorating roads are varied and costly for South Africa’s food producers. The costs incurred range from engine and trailer damage to shorter vehicle lifespan and accidents. The increased transport and maintenance costs ultimately affect the consumer, determining how much consumers pay, and how fresh they receive the produce. All this constrains the potential of the sector to contribute to South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employment.

Organisations in the various provinces also made reports available about the state of the roads in their areas. Click here to view these reports.

Agri SA announced that it will be sharing this data with the Presidency and the Investment and Infrastructure Office within the Presidency. The organisation is calling on government to join with the sector in addressing these issues now. The organisation says it stands ready to cooperate with government to ensure that we give our farmers the best chance of success, and in the process ensure the future food security in South Africa. – Compiled by Elmarie Helberg

Read more on how Agri North West approaches the poor road infrastructure problem in North West.