Alarm raised over decline in maize crop

The production of maize, a staple for millions of South Africans, is predicted to plummet by 35% in Southern Africa by 2030 if climate change continues unabated, a report published this week by Oxfam warns.

The report, “Growing a Better Future – Food Justice in a Resource-Constrained World”, also warns that the price of maize exports is likely to increase by 180% in the same period, exacerbating hunger and malnutrition.

“Higher prices will translate into a depressed demand for food in the [sub-Saharan] region, which already has the world’s lowest calorific intake,” the report states.

According to it, sub-Saharan Africa faces “some of the gravest threats” to its population’s wellbeing, with child malnutrition levels likely to “revert to the same level as [at] the turn of the 21st century — around 30-million” by 2050.

The report warns that “atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases is already above sustainable levels and continues to rise alarmingly”.

Most of the blame for this is placed at the door of Western governments for their inertia over response strategies to climate change, which the report, in turn, attributes mainly to lobby groups associated with big business.

But if adaptation strategies gain momentum, the report forecasts that export maize price increases could be restrained to about 50% by 2030.

The report does come with a caveat — it notes that its research and projections “highlight plausible outcomes based on business-as-usual scenarios [in the response of governments and big business to climate change]. Other futures are possible.”

Raj Patel, the author of the bestselling book, Stuffed and Starved, which criticises the global food system, warned that Southern Africa is “likely to be one of the epicentres of hunger and malnutrition in decades to come if current policies are maintained”.

He told the Mail & Guardian: “The South African government has made poor choices in its agriculture policy, choosing to shore up the status quo of pre-apartheid land ownership. But with higher food prices South Africa’s unequal food economy looks increasingly unsustainable.”

He also warned that food instability in South Africa would not just be constrained to hunger and malnutrition: “Look to the continent to see what happens when people reach a zenith of frustration with high food prices, persistent unemployment and a government that won’t listen. Policymakers here and around [the world] know all too well — high food prices are revolution’s kindling.”

Patel said that Oxfam’s report was “teasing the consequences of our present system out into the future — What Oxfam are pointing towards is the compounding effects of climate change. This matters in particular for Southern Africa, which is projected under some models to experience a 5°C increase in temperature by the 2080s.

“Food prices have been driving inflation recently. Higher global food prices themselves are the result of high oil prices, food price speculation, bad weather and poor government policies. It’s important to ask, though, why these factors matter, why ought oil to have anything to do with food? Why do we allow speculation in markets? Where are the grain reserves to protect us from external price shocks? Why have we become vulnerable to bad weather?

“Answer these questions and you begin to see that the real culprit is the international food trading system, which discourages grain reserves, encourages the world to be dependent on a few grain-producing countries and requires oil-fuelled industrial agriculture,” Patel said.

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Niren Tolsi
Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist whose interests include social justice, citizen mobilisation and state violence, protest, the Constitution and Constitutional Court, football and Test cricket.

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