by Garreth Bloor

Securing our daily bread

Complex issues around food security

Food security is a government focus
bread.jpg

Two structural matters related to food security in South Africa are evident. Property titling and land reform, specifically relating to arable state land inherited from the apartheid regime, much of which was confiscated during the period of state oppression until the early 1990s.  Food security and political stability are closely related and, as Amartya Sen noted, no democracy has ever endured a famine.

With current programs pumping money through African Development Bank, Land Bank, National Empowerment Fund and the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs, are the core issues being addressed? The right institutional setting for farmers to succeed as well as adjustments to the skewed structure of land ownership, including that held by state entities?

Government acknowledged the matter of state land during a Parliamentary portfolio committee hearing into land reform attended by Harvest SA. The Centre for Development and Enterprise, amongst numerous high-level studies recognised by the Financial Times of London, identified rural farmers in the Eastern Cape still awaiting title and ownership of land they were prevented from owning by law until South African entered its democratic transition.

Formerly dispossessed black farmers in the Eastern Cape and their descendants argue their provincial government should release state-owned farms for redistribution.  Their other grievence is government's failure to enforce property rights protections against land invasions, states the report, Land Reform in South Africa.

The report notes that after South Africa’s first democratic elections small scale farmers expected the opportunity to buy the land they had formerly leased from their homeland governments in order to acquire full commercial status. The report adds that most are still awaiting transfer, leaving them unable to use title to the land as security for production and farm infrastructure loans.

For new farmers some intervention is required by way of education programs and government has actively proposed a number of such interventions to ensure adequate measures are put in place.

The Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP) aims to provide post settlement support to the targeted beneficiaries of land reform and to other producers who have acquired land through private means and are, for example, engaged in value-adding enterprises domestically or involved in export, says government.

The ownership question is fundamental to South Africa’s food security, but advocates for strengthened property rights appear to most strongly make their case when arguing widespread property ownership and wealth creation, as opposed to a discussion that only focuses on currently productive land.

Very recently President Jacob Zuma urged stakeholders in South African agriculture to find ways of providing tenure security for communal farmers, to increase support for emerging farmers, and to consider a new approach to land reform in the country, according to government sources, reported on southafrica.info.

"We need to find ways of providing tenure security for communal farmers, and investigate better ways of financing land reform so that new farmers do not become saddled with debt," Zuma noted during the African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa) gala dinner recently held in Gauteng.

Democratic institutions and a free economy are important institutional factors for all countries including South Africa: the Global Food security index found food security "is correlated with a substantial deterioration of democratic institutions in low-income countries, as well as a rise in communal violence, riots, human rights abuses and civil conflict".

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Petersson, says turning small scale farming operations into commercially viable enterprises is important. "We are working very hard to turn rural areas into commercially viable zones. We are trying to eradicate deeply entrenched poverty in rural areas through programmes that will overhaul the entire social system.

Strong suggestions advocating using property titling as a means to ensure farmers can leverage an asset to enable their farming to commercialise have been tabled within academic. Laura Grube, a Fulbright Scholar, concluded research arguing the prospects for such an approach were solid.

“If the process of providing secure property title to traditional communities is to take place quickly and cheaply there must be mutual co-operation from all levels of government and a willingness to listen to the wishes of the people. There are methods to bring legally secure tenure to people throughout South Africa, and they can be implemented within the existing traditions and customs.”

What is clear, is that food security is attainable in South Africa while addressing skewed land ownership; the policy process of further stabilising the country’s food security as a whole must not, however forget the vulnerabilities of the poor. For them food security means nothing if food is not affordable.

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