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Local food chains needed to solve SA’s hunger crisis

Local markets, economic growth and job creation are the paths to reducing the high levels of hunger in South Africa.

These were the solutions offered by expert panellists during a webinar on addressing widespread food insecurity in South Africa. The discussion was co-hosted by FairPlay and Food for Mzansi.

The discussion took place the day after South Africa announced new record levels of unemployment, which meant millions more households would not be able to afford sufficient or nutritious food.

With one notable exception, the panel agreed that South Africa is food secure at a national level, in that the country produces enough food, but insecure at a household level because of the millions of people who go to bed hungry each night.

The exception was Dr Marc Wegerif, a food systems and land reform expert from Human Economy Programme at the University of Pretoria. He stated forcibly that food security had to vest in the people, and when millions were hungry the country could not be said to be food secure.

Dr Wegerif also argued strongly for an expansion of local markets, including municipal fresh produce markets, street traders and “bakkie traders” to make more food accessible to lower-income households at prices they could afford.

He said research had shown that street traders sold at lower prices than supermarket chains – onions for which the farmer received R3.73/kg were sold in supermarkets for R16.80, while informal traders made a profit selling them for R7-R8/kg. He also believed in more direct supply links between farmers and street traders, and in land reform to enable small scale black farmers to own land and profit from their own enterprises.

This was supported by Hamlet Hlomendlini, an agribusiness manager at Absa. He pointed to the need for investment in agricultural infrastructure, for easier access to financing for black small-scale farmers and agri-businesses, and for education and training to help them become successful. 

He also identified a need to incentivise young people to become farmers, because agriculture was “an ageing sector” and it was older farmers who were driving agricultural growth.

The informal sector was the key to feeding lower-income communities, and policy needed to take this into account, said Mervyn Abrahams, programme coordinator at the Pietermartizburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group.  He called for a policy switch from one favouring large enterprises to the globally accepted recognition of the importance of small-scale farming and local food systems in feeding the poor.

During a discussion on rising food prices, Abrahams said the answer was not price control but economic growth and job creation so people could buy food.

FairPlay founder François Baird said small-scale farmers were hardest hit when foreign producers, supported and subsidised by their governments, dumped products like chicken and sugar in South Africa. Farmers lost their livelihoods because South Africa did not apply international trade rules strongly enough.

In conclusion, Dawn Noemdoe, an editor who is part of the Food for Mzansi team, noted the emphasis in the webinar discussion on building resilience at community level and identifying the organisations that could help provide food security for the poor. These included the churches, charities and other volunteers who had stepped in to help the vulnerable.

Thank you to everyone who joined us. 

Our food security webinar was followed by more than 200 people, locally and internationally. They joined via Zoom, and watched it live on Facebook and Youtube.

The webinar also resulted in a news report carried in two Sunday newspapers – the Sunday Independent and the Sunday Tribune – focusing on the importance of informal markets and networks, including farmers selling directly to local markets and traders.

Image: Screengrab from Game Time, a Proudly South African campaign: