by Taryn Springhall

On the knife edge

SA is on teetering on the edge of being food insecure

South Africa is on the verge of being food insecure
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South Africa teeters on a very fine line between food secure and insecure – a plight that has earned the attention of government, the private sector and industry bodies to address what could potentially be a devastating and far reaching crisis should it escalate. Even the simplest definition of food security encompasses a number of variable facts that can affect a nation’s food security. 

According to Wikipedia, ‘food security refers to a household’s physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food that fulfils the dietary needs and food preferences of that household for living an active and healthy life.’

On dissection, it is clear that true food security is defined and determined by a number of equally important factors. In addition to physical and economic access to food, the food itself needs to be produced in an environmentally sustainable and socially just manner. 

The issue of food security is also rooted in a healthy national and international food system, encompassing production, processing, distribution, marketing, acquisition and consumption of food.  

South Africa is in a unique position in comparison to other African countries and is even compared to first world countries. 

On a national level, South Africa produces enough food to feed its own people and export across the world and is considered food secure from a global perspective. At a household level however, South Africa is considered food insecure. 

While there is enough food to feed its people, rapidly escalating food prices have left the country’s poorest hungry and unable to access adequate amounts of quality food.  

In South Africa, the complexity of food security is further compounded by the lack of integration with the country’s land reform programme. 

While the redistribution of land is necessary parts of rectifying discrimination and marginalisation of the Apartheid regimen, the lack of co-ordination between the two programmes have, in many instances, resulted in productive farms becoming unproductive once the transfer of ownership is complete. 

 The ramifications of fertile land that is either underutilised or not farmed correctly poses an enormous threat to food security and have resulted in a number of bodies calling for the alignment of food security and land reform policies in order for both to be effective. 

The global financial crisis in 2008 brought on massive increases in the price of a number of staple foods such as maize, wheat and rice. 

Developing countries felt the biggest impact with some grains doubling in cost. This years’ drought in the US will again see spikes in the cost of maize and have highlighted the effects of climate change on food security.  Failed harvests due to natural disasters, floods, droughts and heat waves have been cause for alarm from nations around the world. 

While affected by an increase in food prices, South Africa also saw a significant increase in demand for agricultural products. Between 2008 and 2010, agricultural exports grew by 10% while imports dropped by nearly 1%.

For further reading on this topic, please visit: Harvest SA - Feeding on solutions

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