16 October 2012 marks the annual World Food Day, which raises awareness and understanding of approaches to ending hunger. The role of cooperatives in improving food security and contributing to the eradication of hunger is this year’s theme, announced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
According to Gareth Lloyd-Jones, MD of Ecowize, a health and sanitation company servicing the food and beverage sector, World Food Day highlights the urgency for South Africa’s government and the private sector to curb food insecurity in the country by establishing a self-sustainable local food production and agriculture industry. South Africa ranked 40th out of 105 countries in the DuPont Global Food Security Index. Further presented in the Index were findings from the FAO that show sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where the average food supply is below the daily adult requirement. In addition to this, the Index cited statistics by the UN that show global food production urgently needs to rise by 50 per cent by 2030, if countries are to meet the demand of the growing population.
Local agriculture has been significantly compromised over the last two decades by globalisation and food imports, which has been well-documented by Trade-Related Agenda Development and Equity (TRADE), consequently leading to food scarcity and threatening food security in the country. While the purpose of globalisation has been to open trade barriers to provide opportunities for growth and development across the world, this has not been the case for many sub-Saharan countries. These countries continue to struggle to develop agriculture and to achieve their objectives of poverty reduction through improving food security and increasing export earnings.
‘The increase in food prices worldwide is having an immediate and devastating impact around the globe,’ comments Lloyd-Jones. ‘In order to address the food security crisis in South Africa, as was experienced globally in 2007 and 2008 due to a direct result of a sharp increase in food prices, the government and the private sector must establish a self-sustainable local food production and agriculture industry through the implementation of a development programme. By creating a self-sustainable local agriculture and food production industry, we will reduce hunger and poverty and increase agricultural development. This will subsequently contribute towards skills development in the country and improve inclusive economy growth and job creation.’
Lloyd-Jones states the key initiative to achieving this is a structured, integrated and coordinated effort to develop the full ambit of the food supply chain from farm to fork. This will create a food supply chain that is not only economically viable, but sustainable on an environmental and social level in the future. ‘The ultimate aim should be to turn South Africa’s food supply industry into a net exporter as opposed to a net importer of food, without compromising the full spectrum of food supply locally and the inherent threat of this industrialised approach on the environment.’
He maintains that the South African government, in its discussion document on Agriculture in Sustainable Development, has touched on some of the key initiatives. However, they need to ultimately take a multi stakeholder approach consisting of a private and public sector partnership that emulates a programme like the Motor Industry Development Programme (MIDP). He says there should be a strong focus on small farmers and how they can be incorporated into a meaningful industrialised set-up for local food production.
‘Small farmers are the key to the agrarian revolution. In developing countries, agriculture continues to be the main source of employment, livelihood and income for between 50-90 per cent of the population. Of this, small farmers make the up the majority, that is, 70-95 per cent of the farming population. Small farmers have traditionally survived on subsistence production and therefore assisting at this level will be key to the success of the initiative,’ comments Lloyd-Jones. ‘But , this can only be achieved with the aid from both the private sector and the government who need to commit to sustained agricultural investments and take more decisive action to improve the current situation faced by local food producers.
‘In order to become a self-sustainable food nation, a complete level playing field is needed whereby cheap food imports into the country are restricted so as to lessen the pressure on local farmers who are forced to compete with too low prices.’
Many countries are able to export food products at low prices as their government provides them with financial aid for the production of the food products. To address this issue, he says the South African government must devise a strategy. In order for it to be successful in reducing the amount of cheap imports into the country, it needs to introduce stricter import regulations, increase import tariffs and implement competiveness development programmes to assure that the industry produces food at economically acceptable pricing levels to the consumer.
‘Take the Brazilian chicken farmers for example; the Brazilian government supplies them with 90 per cent subsidy on grain to feed their chickens, allowing the farmers to export poultry products at cheap prices. This forces South African farmers to push their prices down when they cannot afford to, even though they receive no financial aid from the government,’ explains Lloyd-Jones.
These low prices depress smallholder farmers’ incomes and disrupt their ability to produce food, creating a disincentive for them to produce and threating the development of rural area and ultimately increasing poverty. ‘Agriculture and the associated food production activities represent the future of our countries development possibilities. It holds the key to poverty elevation and job creation. It creates the platform for rural development and the provision of basic needs. More importantly, it is the essence of having an economically, environmentally and sociably sustainable food supply into the future,’ he concludes.