by Rizel Delano

Answer at our feet

Earth's plentiful bounty needs to be utilised quickly and correctly

Smaller farmers need support in order to contribute to food security
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Worldwide, up to two billion people lack food security – with about 925 million chronically hungry due to extreme poverty. Six million children die of hunger every year, which equates to 17 000 every day.

The United Nations forecasts that the global population will reach around nine billion by 2050, with major growth taking place in developing countries. Analysts say South Africa’s population by then could be around 55 to 60 million.

This severely jeopardises food security, which is usually associated with poor health, dietary deficiency, malnourished children, decreased physical activity and lowered immunity. It also has a major impact on sustainable economic development, environment, and trade.

The Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action called on all UN members to halve the number of chronically undernourished people by the year 2015. The plan of action sets a number of targets for governments and non-governmental organisations to achieve food security at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels.

It is a human right for people to have access to sufficient and nutritious food that meets all dietary needs and preferences to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. But food security remains a complex sustainable development issue.

If left unaddressed, food security sets in motion an array of outcomes that perpetuate malnutrition, reduce the ability of adults to work, raise women’s inability to give birth to healthy children, and erode the ability of children and young adults to learn and lead productive, healthy and happy lives. This stunting of human development undermines the country’s potential for sustainable economic development.

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), Tina Joemat-Pettersson, said in a presidential statement that the agricultural sector is a key sector of the economy to promote food security. It is one of the six job drivers identified in the New Growth Path developed to create much-needed jobs, eliminate poverty, unemployment and inequality. 

The DAFF's major role is to encourage South Africans to participate in agriculture and produce in rural areas where malnutrition levels are higher than in urban areas. The department promotes participation in various forms of subsistence agriculture, encouraging people to contribute to the growth of commercial agriculture.

Farmers’ incomes and agricultural job creation are also highly dependent on global economic conditions and global markets. These conditions, combined with challenges such as climate change and uncertainty around land reform, have resulted in a decrease in the number of commercial farmers.

It has further led to a decrease in total production levels, a higher volume of food imports and higher food prices. In future, farmers will need improved support in the form of finance, market access, agro-processing, implements and inputs, training, and capacity development.

The government is committed to the provision of finance, the opening of new markets globally, and provision of implements and inputs. While looking at the need to increase food production, transformation in the agricultural sector should be prioritised.

At the moment, commercial agriculture is currently producing 90% of the agricultural output, consisting of about 37 000 members. People living in the rural areas produce only 10% of the agricultural output through subsistence farming, with more than 25 million members. More support for emerging farmers would improve their participation in commercial agriculture.

Since 2009, 11 000 new smallholders have been established out of a 50 000 target that was set to be reached by 2014. Support has been provided to both new and long-established farmers through many programmes including Letsema, the Recapitalisation and Development Programme, and through the funding agency, the Micro-Agricultural Financial Institutions of SA.

Despite the support, only a marginal number of 5 381 smallholders are involved in agri-businesses and a mere 3 910 are linked to markets. The minister said an improved programme of financing should be created, involving the National Treasury, the Land Bank and established farmers, envisaging that the cost of land reform be spread between all stakeholders. It involves new financial instruments being designed to facilitate land reform. 

More investment in clean technology and agricultural research and development is needed, which should be used more strategically. The growing challenge of climate change means South Africa needs to look at ways of making agriculture more sustainable. This includes paying greater attention to alternative energy, soil quality, minimum tillage, and other forms of conservation farming. 

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, food prices are already at close to record levels, having risen 1.4% in September 2012 following an increase of 6% in July.

According to Ernst Janovsky‚ Absa head of agribusiness, the rise in agricultural commodity prices poses a threat to food security, and investments in agriculture are crucial.

Chief executive of Land Bank Phakamani Hadebe said at the signing of a multibillion-rand agricultural loan between the Land Bank and Afgri, a new approach was needed to sustain food security.

“For the world to be able to produce sufficient food, we’ll need to improve our technology. We need new systems to enhance our productivity; we also have to work smarter,” he said.

The Land Bank recently raised R1 billion from the African Development Bank, and a further R830 million from the South African capital markets to pump into the sector.

Policy makers should also focus on financing and strengthening infrastructure distribution networks that facilitate regional and international trade. Food is the basis of human development, therefore sustainable food security should be seen as a survival imperative. 

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