by Lia Labuschagne

Food security: More than production

The issues around food security are multifaceted

Issues around food security surpass production
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Whenever the topic of food security is mentioned, the immediate reactions tend to equate it with the capacity of the agricultural sector to supply enough food. However, this is an over-simplification: the issue is multifaceted and poses developmental questions that extend far beyond production.

Total production figures and plenty of food on the shelves do not mean that the general populace is automatically protected against hunger and malnutrition. The availability of food does not automatically mean individuals have access to food.

Measurements of malnutrition in 2010 by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimated that almost one in seven people globally is undernourished, and that developing countries account for 98% of poor people globally.

South Africa produces enough food to feed its people, yet agricultural economist Herman van Schalkwyk said between 14% and 52% of South African households are food-insecure.

Urbanisation is often linked to issues of food security and is particularly significant if one keeps in mind estimates of the growth in the total global population, which is likely to rise from the current seven billion to 10 billion by the middle of this century. A large percentage of this increase will be in developing countries, and at 4% the rate of urbanisation in sub-Saharan Africa is about twice that of the global average; this is very significant for overall planning in South Africa.

Well-known scientific and technical writer Leonie Joubert writes in her latest book, The Hungry Season: Feeding Southern Africa’s Cities, that providing food is not about “how much are we producing every season; how do we deal with land reform to keep commercial farmers in the game; how do we get skills to subsistence farmers; can our urban poor feed themselves by growing their own lettuces and cabbages; how is climate change going to redraw the agricultural map of southern Africa”.

Instead, she argues, “put simply, food security is about people being able to get their hands on safe, wholesome food that meets their bodies’ dietary needs and which matches their palate or cultural preferences, and being able to have ongoing access to that kind of food”.

Chief executive officer at Grain SA, Jannie de Villiers, says that according to the National Planning Commission’s strategic 2030 plan, the agricultural sector is a strategic vehicle for rural development and job creation. As a non-profit organisation with a membership of 3 600 commercial farmers and 4 000 developing farmers, Grain SA plans to contribute to achieving the national strategy in a number of ways. Involvement in research that ensures farmers are as productive and competitive as possible, is one of these plans. Another major initiative is the training and mentorship programme for emerging 
black farmers.

“There are about 4 000 farmers of all ages and gender organised in our 109 study groups. They are trained, attend farmer’s days and learn sustainable farming on the land they have access to at the numerous trail plots, irrespective of the size,” explains De Villiers.

“The technology transferred at these training sessions assists them to produce grain at commercial yields.”

He points out that access to land and financing remains the biggest stumbling block. A partnership between the government and Grain SA was formed in 2011. The government supplies funding to recapitalise these farmers and Grain SA provides the mentoring service to ensure 
commercial production.

Funding for the programme was increased from R36 million (16 farmers) to R185 million (88 farmers) last year.

There are many challenges for agricultural production, including some dilemmas with broader economic implications.

De Villiers says the tension between mining companies and the agricultural industry in Mpumalanga is one such example.

He argues that “lately, the swing in favour of mining has increased to such an extent that the agriculture sector and environmentalists have flagged this matter and indicate the food security risk to the country as a whole.”

He says: “South Africa only has 1.5% high-potential arable soils, of which 46.4% is in Mpumalanga.

“At the current rate, it was calculated that the sample surveyed showed a potential loss of maize production of 447 581 tonnes due to mining.

“Based on the findings, and extrapolating it to include the whole Mpumalanga province, as well as the areas currently under prospect, the total loss of grain production could be one million tonnes.”

De Villiers offers a possibility: “South Africa seriously needs to slow down the rates of mining activities in Mpumalanga and at the same time enhance grain production in other parts of the country, taking into consideration the impact of climate change in the medium- to long term.

“The obvious choice is the Eastern Cape, but the lack of infrastructure, the dominance of the communal land system and the distance to the main markets (Gauteng) are major hindrances to achieving this goal in a short space of time.”

It will not be a simple task to find a solution to this dilemma – one that will also satisfy the needs of the mining industry.

 

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