FairPlay launches campaign for national food security summit

The FairPlay movement is to launch a campaign for a national food security summit to address issues of poverty and hunger in South Africa, exacerbated by rising levels of power cuts to homes and industries.

The announcement was made by FairPlay founder Francois Baird at the conclusion of a media briefing on food security last week. Baird said the objective would be to gather together representatives from all parts of the food value chain to seek immediate and longer-term solutions to an escalating food crisis, particularly for poor people.

“South Africa is stumbling into a hunger pandemic”

FairPlay founder Francois Baird appears on BBC’s Newsday to discuss South Africa’s hunger crisis.

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South Africa is food secure at a national level, but not at a household level for low-income families. Agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo has estimated that six million South Africans are food insecure because they cannot afford to buy the food that is available.

The proposal for a food security summit was endorsed by Mervyn Abrahams, programme co-ordinator at the consumer organisation Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group (PMBEJD) and by Izaak Breitenbach of the SA Poultry Association (SAPA).

Both said rising levels of hunger and poverty added to the risk of social instability, such as South Africa had seen in July 2021. And both said that higher levels of power cuts, known as load shedding, and the prospect of worse to come, were adding cost increases that made food increasingly unaffordable for poor people.

Abrahams said there was a direct correlation between food insecurity and social instability. A food security summit was overdue, and “we should have had it two years ago.” Because of escalating load shedding, the stress of rising food prices had now spread to middle class consumers as well.

Abrahams pointed out that the cost of his group’s monthly basket of essential foods had exceeded R5 000 for the first time, well above the national minimum wage of around R4 000 a month. And only 30% of wages went to food, because of other priorities such as transport, electricity and debt servicing.

When poor people could not afford chicken meat, they switched to cheaper chicken parts, such as feet and gizzards in order to survive.

Abrahams supported the removal of the 15% value added tax (VAT) from chicken portions and chicken feed.

Breitenbach said the poultry industry was preparing a submission to the South African Treasury for the removal of VAT from frozen chicken portions and “tertiary products” such as chicken livers, feet and gizzards.

Higher chicken prices had led to a drop in the national consumption of chicken. People were switching from chicken meat to cheaper chicken products such as feet and gizzards, and away from chicken to plant-based foods such as soya beans, and to polonies.

High prices had to be addressed, Breitenbach said, and an immediate way to do so would be “VAT-free chicken”, zero-rating a targeted selection of chicken products.

Breitenbach repeated his assurance that the poultry industry would pass on the 15% VAT savings in the producer prices it charges its customers. He said retail sales prices were monitored by active consumer organisations, who would ensure that retailers passed on the savings to shoppers.

Today’s food is tomorrow’s economy

“We build our future economy on the food that we feed our children today.”

Mervyn Abrahams of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group (PMBEJD) used this comment to illustrate his concern about the South Africa’s high levels of child stunting, caused by malnutrition.

He said health statistics were an important indicator of a country’s food security and “children are dying of hunger at the moment”.

Abrahams referred to the Cape Town University study that had found that 27% of children under five were stunted. This affected them physically and mentally for the rest of their lives, he said.

They would be unable to participate fully in the educational system, and would probably require higher levels of health care than other children. If they entered the economy cognitively impaired, they would earn the lowest wages, adding to the country’s poverty levels.

That, he said, was why a healthy economy in the future depended on healthy child nutrition today.

The nutritional value of chicken was also stressed by Izaak Breitenbach of SAPA. People needed chicken in their diet because it has special nutritional qualities.

“No plant protein can replace the nutritional value of an animal protein,” Breitenbach said.

Chicken dumping is no solution to food insecurity

Increased levels of dumped chicken imports would not solve food security problems and could lead to joblessness and food insecurity in the future.

These thoughts were voiced by participants in last week’s media briefing on food security in South Africa, hosted by FairPlay.

Izaak Breitenbach of the SA Poultry Association said higher volumes of dumped chicken imports were no solution.

“Food security depends on local production in any country,” he said, pointing out that the poultry industry production capacity had increased by 10% in the past three years.

“We have enough chicken. The problem is to get it to slaughter, and to markets. Imports will not resolve that problem.

“We need more electricity, and then we will have food security.”

Mervyn Abrahams of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group (PMBEJD) said a food security summit needed to look at longer-term solutions, including the role of the state in supporting farmers, producers and consumers to make food more affordable.

“We can’t have knee-jerk reactions like importing and dumping,” he said. This could put local chicken producers out of business, destroy the economies of rural areas where most chicken was produced, and increase levels of unemployment and food insecurity.