Jobs and economic growth are the answer, says Sihlobo

Food security can only be brought about by economic growth and job creation, according to agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo.

Sihlobo, who is chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa, told the Sunday Times that the government’s food security plan should focus on household income, not food prices.

“The challenge is not rising prices, but that if you don’t have a job or an income, any price is too expensive.”

South Africa produced more than enough food, and prices had been coming down for seven months he said. The question was not what the government was doing about prices, but what it was doing to enable the economy to grow and create jobs so people can work and afford to buy food.

If the government is serious about the welfare of consumers, it needs to step back and try to understand what the drivers of poverty are, Sihlobo said.

Food prices were “the outcome of a whole multitude of things in the country that are not working”.

“It’s not an agricultural question, but a socioeconomic question we should be looking at. Not entirely about looking at the food space; we should be looking much broader.

“If you want a nation that is food secure, then these are the challenges you have to deal with.”

Sihlobo said he would like to see government commitments to improve the logistics network, revitalise rural towns and improve municipal services so that agribusinesses could invest and create more jobs.

“If rural road networks and railway lines are functioning, that lowers the cost of doing business and of course the costs of food manufacturing and all the things related to that. On top of that we can add the dramatic costs of loadshedding and crime,” he said.