ensued when fuel supplies ran out during the harvesting of winter crops and planting of summer crops last December, Grain SA has urged farmers to order diesel for this peak season now.Grain SA general manager John Purchase said the recommendation is based on findings by the Moerane Commission that refineries will again have shut-down periods during the second half of this year. These findings stem from the commission’s investigation into last year’s fuel crisis.
However, the South African Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia) said it has made provisions by importing fuel to counter any shortages. “There are shutdowns planned later in the year and this is inevitable because refineries have to be closed for a short period once a year for maintenance,” said Sapia director Colin McClelland.“But we are wider awake than before and have already planned to import products during these shutdowns and we don’t foresee any shortage problems. During the period June to September we imported millions of tons of products.”

McClelland commended the work of the Moerane Commission, headed by advocate Marumo Moerane, saying it made sound recommendations for the future.Ferdi Meyer, an agricultural economist from the University of Pretoria, warned that the increased plantings this year automatically increased the fuel demand when harvesting. He said if a fuel shortage were to occur, it would have far-reaching effects on farmers.

“During the fuel crisis last year we were lucky because there wasn’t a large area of maize planted so the impact wasn’t as serious. But this year the planting has increased by about 40% so the demand for fuel increases too. There could be a serious situation in the unlikely event of a fuel crisis like last year,” he said. Speaking at the release of the findings of the Moerane Commission on 30 August, minerals and energy minister Buyelwa Sonjica said fuel shortages similar to those last December are unlikely to recur as her department had proactive steps to prevent this.

According to the Moerane Commission, structural and regulatory weaknesses were the major contributing factors which triggered the fuel shortages. Quoting from the investigation report, Sonjica cited the introduction of fuel specifications (the phasing out of leaded petrol last year) and inadequate logistical infrastructure as other contributing factors.The commission’s report did not rule out future fuel crises should urgent interventions fail to be implemented. “If the weaknesses referred to are not addressed with urgency, petroleum product supply shortages will become a feature of the future economic environment. In fact, we anticipate that another supply crisis could emerge in the second half of 2006 because of scheduled refinery shutdowns,” the report said. – Gavin Grobbelaar