The drought and insufficient supply of water is devastating parts of South Africa, causing the country’s farmers to lose up to R10 billion per annum. Worst affected are KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State, Limpopo, Northwest and the Northern Cape, where farmers growing white maize, yellow maize, soya beans and sunflowers have incurred major losses. The cost implications from the Ukraine war hit African economies prices for basic needs, such as sunflower oil, crude, fertilizer and wheat since the war began. South Africa does not produce enough vegetable oil to be able to meet local demand and the rest is sourced from Europe.

South Africa only produces 800,000 MT of oil per annum, relative to 950,000 MT it imports from other regions. Water security can decrease the cost of living by localizing resources for local needs. Sunflower seeds contain large amounts of natural oil and require a lot of water for germination, and it takes 6,792 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of refined sunflower oil. Additionally, Sunflower production and transportation has a high carbon footprint for approximately 3.3 kg CO2e to produce 1 kilogram of sunflower seed oil, a car driving equivalent of 12.5 kilometers.

In South Africa, sunflowers are currently regarded as a promising crop under conditions of low-input farming, where the yields are more resilient relative to other crops. Considering the size of South Africa, Sunflowers on average account for approximately 3.8% of the total area cultivated in South Africa. Sunflower oil and canola oil prices have risen 55% and 40% respectively during the past two months.

According to several publications, consumers will start to feel the pressure in the next month, with a 2 litre bottle of vegetable oil expected to reach between R100 and R120, during a critical time for oilseed plantings and the projection of increased prices to continue well into 2023.

The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy reports that imports of seed, oil and cake have gradually been increasing to meet the rising domestic demand. With approximately double the amount of crushing capacity available as the number of sunflower seed that is produced locally, the question arises why the local industry can’t fill the gap of imports and increase the local level of production – and the first answer that comes to mind, is water scarcity.

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