by Jannie De Villiers

CEO of Grain SA on balancing energy and food security

Jannie de Villiers looks at the conflict of land usage

Jannie de Villiers: CEO of Grain South Africa
jannie de villiers head and shoulders.jpg

The agricultural sector around the world is struggling with the debate about food versus fuel, as well as food versus energy. From the models provided in history, we have learnt that the free market will always allocate goods and services according to the ability to pay with a profit-driven motive.

Moreover, there is a controlling system where the government makes decisions on behalf of all, and in the public's interest. This is not always the best solution and, because of the huge amounts of money and personal interests involved, it could be open to corruption.

In South Africa’s case, I suppose the answer lies somewhere between these two extremes. If we allow the market to make decisions about how much of our high-potential agricultural soils should be made available for mining minerals, the mining sector would win hands down.

But when food becomes extemely expensive and poverty stares us in the face, it will be too late to intervene.

One cannot produce cash crops on rehabilitated land! Therefore, we need proactive intervention from the government in the allocation of land. Soon it will be too late to halt the issuing of mining licences. The same arguments hold true in the debate about whether or not grain should be used to manufacture biofuel.

A conservative approach is what is needed and the government has done exactly that. The obligatory blending rates are not very ambitious and the stock feed has been chosen very selectively so as not to threaten food security.

To mine an area, export the coal, make money and then go, leaving the land useless to the current and future generations, is a very shortsighted approach. We need to balance energy security and long-term food security.

I recently learnt from a World Wildlife Fund presentation that 50% of our freshwater supplies come from an 18.5% catchment area. Surely we cannot afford to issue any development activity licences in that area. This catchment area feeds not only the Vaal, but also the Olifants and Pongola River systems. Millions of people’s lives depend on it.

All the elements of food, water energy, and fuel are critical – not only for our current existence, but also for that of our children and grandchildren. We now have time to act and to respect the needs of those who will come after us.

The true definition of sustainability is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

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