Saying South Africa is food secure nationally when more than 14 million people in the country go hungry each day and more than a quarter of its children under the age of five are stunted, shows a gross misunderstanding of what food security really entails.
This was one of the key messages of Dr Marc Wegerif, lecturer in development studies at the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Pretoria, during a food security webinar jointly hosted by agricultural development company, FarmSol, and South Africa’s largest English Agricultural magazine, Farmer’s Weekly.
Panellists made it clear that the blame for the situation was not to be laid at the feet of farmers, but that it is rather a structural problem that needed a collaborative solution.
Wegerif explained that farmers could be part of the solution through job creation. Expecting them, however, to lower prices to render food more affordable was not feasible as the majority were already struggling to make ends meet.
The creation of a more farmer-friendly environment would therefore go a long way. “South Africa obviously cannot out compete European countries and America when it comes to the provision of subsidies, but government could introduce policies and mechanisms to better protect farmers against currency fluctuations and imports,” Wegerif said.
Absence of a food policy
Dr Mohammad Karaan from the Agricultural Economics faculty of Stellenbosch University touched on the absence of a food policy in South Africa: “We have an agricultural policy, but I do not think we have a (food) policy that specifically seeks to address food insecurity amongst the elderly, children and destitute people in our society.”
Social grants are also not enough to address this social flaw. Karaan said that more efforts have to be made to turn South Africa into a poor-friendly country – a country where the poor can have a decent living – and to curb and address food insecurity in rural areas.
This is becoming increasingly important considering that urbanisation is expected to result in 70% of our population living in cities by 2050. “People often think that urbanisation will help to alleviate poverty and address food insecurity, but it can exacerbate the problem if not managed properly by adding pressure on already scarce resources in cities.”
“Instead, we need to find ways to incentivise people to stay in the rural areas through, for example job, creation and farming support,” Karaan said.
Farmer support and development Aron Kole, managing director of FarmSol, said that steps should be taken to ensure that all farmers – irrespective of the size of their farms – are able to access finances, resources, and technologies to farm competitively.
“It does not help to have 700 000 ha of land available for smallholder farmer development, but the farmers do not have access to finance or technologies to do something with the land and do so successfully.”
André Cloete, an award winning farmer who farms on CASP land near Caledon, added that it was okay to give hand-outs to farmers who had nothing, but these farmers should over time be empowered to stand on their own feet to avoid a wastage of money.
Government however should also not be the only party responsible for this: “To address food insecurity we need a collaborative approach, with everyone from farmers to industry stakeholders and banks playing their individual roles in making this a success. We would have been a lot further today with land reform if this was done from the start,” Cloete said.
Watch the webinar on FarmSol’s website: