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World Food Day: Government’s approach does not address the causes of food insecurity

In South Africa today, approximately 11 million people in 2.8 million households are food insecure – that is at least one in every five South Africans.

The Food Security Index released by the Economist Intelligence Unit earlier this year ranks South Africa 40th out of 105 countries in terms of food security.

In a world of plenty, this is unacceptable. Almost 9 million tonnes of food are wasted every year in South Africa alone, the large majority of which didn’t even make it to market thanks to weak distribution mechanisms.

The Department of Agriculture has spent R 5 bn since 2004 on small scale farming, but commercial agriculture (40,000 black and white farmers) still accounts for 95 % of South Africa’s production. Internationally, small scale farmers provide, on average, 60% of production.

A further R808.5m of the government’s budget is apparently to be allocated to President Jacob Zuma’s Mangaung war-chest through the Masibambisane Rural Development Initiative – where government uses communal land to plant and harvest maize. But no credible business plan exists for this initiative.

South Africa remains a net food exporter for now, but while exports have grown by a factor of 36 since 1975, imports have grown by a factor of 135 – three times higher.

The majority of blame for this poor state of affairs must be placed at the door of the tripartite alliance. Inappropriate political appointments to key positions have led to:

  • uncontrolled animal disease outbreaks, which has caused many sectors to lose export markets they had spent decades building;
  •  the collapse of rural roads;
  •  inadequate support for emerging farmers; and
  •  irresponsible awarding of mining licences – which may place 90,000 hectares of high potential agricultural land in Mpumalanga at risk.

The truth is that food security is a prerequisite to economic growth and job creation. You cannot educate a hungry child, and you cannot hope for productive employment if citizens are going without food. South Africa therefore simply has to do better.

“The DA has proposed a number of policy interventions that will enhance food security in South Africa”, said Annete Lovemore from the Democratic Alliance.  “The most important is for land under communal tenure in the former homelands to be converted to individual title deed”.

Without such a move to secure property rights across vast swathes of arable land, food security will remain tenuous and 21 million South Africans will continue to eke out a mere subsistence living, dependent on government hand-outs.

Government has to concentrate on making all available land productive through providing the correct incentives. Masibambisane-type initiatives do nothing to reverse the structural causes of food insecurity.

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