Food security

Food security depends on small farms

The importance of smallholder and subsistence farmers to national food security was highlighted in two recent reports.

The Guardian says Alvaro Lario, the new head of the United Nations’ agriculture finance fund wants billions of dollars to be invested in smallholder farms so that they can produce food for themselves and are not left at the mercy of external shocks.

According to Lario, the current global food crisis, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, would happen again – and soon – unless world leaders addressed decades of underinvestment in how food was grown and delivered.

Currently many smallholder farmers cannot feed themselves and some are selling their assets.

He said hundreds of billions of dollars needed to be directed towards small farms by investing in water and soil conservation, offering low-interest loans, access to markets, and boosting productivity.

In South Africa, a senior official in the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development has told the Daily Maverick that the country’s biggest food security threat is a lack of subsistence farming.

Dr Jemina Moeng, the department’s director of smallholder development, said vegetables could be grown in backyard gardens in rich or poor suburbs.

“You don’t necessarily need huge farms. So the biggest threat is people shying away from home food production and wanting to rely on food purchasing, which relies again on the money you earn,” Moeng said. 

The publication quoted food security statistics from StatsSA. It said the country was food secure at a national level, but not at a household level. Food insecurity affected almost 20% of households.

About 17.28% (10.1 million) of South Africans experienced moderate food insecurity, while 7% (4.1 million) were classified as food insecure in 2019.