/ 18 October 2013

Sustainable food systems

Sustainable Food Systems

The reality is that 12-million South Africans have severely inadequate access to food. Even more distressing is that while these South Africans suffer, the country, at a national level, is food-secured.

The former president, Nelson Mandela, once said: "We do not want freedom without bread, nor do we want bread without freedom. We must provide for all the fundamental rights and freedoms associated with a democratic society."

Freedom and food access are intrinsically linked. During the World Food Summit in 2006, heads of state reaffirmed the right to food as a fundamental human right.

The South African Constitution states that every citizen has the right to have access to sufficient food and water, and that the state will ensure the realisation of this right.

But feeding the nation is not just about providing food; it is also about providing the means, through policies, for citizens to take part in the production of their own food.

Rural women are the largest section of the population dealing with poverty and lack of opportunities.

In support of their plight, the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries plays a critical role in ensuring agricultural production by means of promoting entrepreneurship and providing support to smallholder farmers.

The department, in collaboration with provincial departments of agriculture has been at the forefront of the mantra "One family, one food garden", to ensure increased access to food production.

Small steps must be undertaken to ensure that people produce their own food.

The comprehensive agricultural support programmes of the department are designed to assist people in rural areas to grow their own food so they can sustain themselves and their families.

We have to move away from thinking commercial farmers are the only ones who are responsible for producing food.

To ease the pressure on farmers, the department believes that South Africans must cultivate and nurture a small-scale farming sector and cooperatives to assist us in firstly, creating employment, and, secondly helping us to create sustainable SMMEs.

South Africa, as is the case in many developing countries, is facing challenges of poverty, unemployment, climate change, crime/safety on farms, increases in the cost of living, economic recession, the Aids pandemic and surging food prices, among others.

These create instability, which manifests in a variety of outcomes, one of which is growing food insecurity at both national and household levels.

In some countries these factors have led to riots and political unrest. In 2012, Lesotho's food security declined alarmingly for the second year in a row.

The impact of the drought and late rains in the 2011/12 cropping season worsened an already vulnerable situation in rural Lesotho following a poor harvest in 2010/11.

Crop forecasts showed that cereal production was the lowest in 10 years in the country.

Consequently, the government of Lesotho officially declared an emergency food crisis and formally requested international assistance.

South Africa answered the call, through the department of international relations and cooperation, with a donation of R180-million.

The World Food Programme (WFP) was best suited to channel and distribute the food assistance.

This would translate to assisting 227 000 children and pregnant and lactating women who were malnourished and food secure for a period of 22 months in the 10 districts of the Kingdom.

One of the conditions of this agreement, from the South African government's side, was that at least 40% of the white, non- genetically modified maize must be purchased from smallholder farmers in South Africa. This agreement is the biggest of its size for the agriculture sector.

The WFP will supply commodities including sugar beans, pulses, vegetable oil, sugar, canned fish, iodised salt and super cereal to Lesotho.

South Africa's present population is 50-million and grain consumption is about 14-million tons.

By 2030, the population is expected to be about 59-million and a minimum grain stock of about 25-million tons will be required.

Food insecurity and environmental degradation are inherently linked. As the world's population is growing and the pressure on food supplies increases, people are forced to use practices which increase yield in the short term but are devastating for land in the medium or long term.

In 2001, in 64 out of 105 developing countries, food production was lagging behind population growth. Total food production in Africa grows at a rate of 2% a year, whereas population grows at a rate of 3%.

In the last half of the 20th century, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, more than five billions hectares of land (more than 60% of agricultural land in Africa) were affected by one or other form of land degradation.

The agricultural sector has become a significant roleplayer on the African continent. The department's task would be but half done if we do not take up the cudgels to help South Africa become a country with total food security for all, says Tina Joemat-Pettersson, minister for agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

"Food security will only be achieved through links between other government programmes, the agri-industry, the agro-processing and retail sectors, the research-based institutions, the NGOs and civil society."

This article forms part of a supplement paid for by the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Contents and photographs were supplied and signed off by the department