Food Security in the South African Context

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Kicking-off the first week of workshops at Department of Design was an examination of food security from the South African perspective. Our first speaker, Mzokhona Mvemve from East London Industrial Development Zone, provided listeners with a synopsis of food security, the agricultural economy and politics within the South African context, as well as what needs to be done for the future.

Over the past decade in South Africa, vulnerability to hunger has decreased, but access to food has not risen respectively. Currently, a huge chunk in providing food to needy families comes from the public. Rural provinces in South Africa continue to be hit the hardest in terms of food security and poverty. Perhaps most interesting was the fact that South Africa produces enough produce to export to other countries, yet food security within the country is still a huge problem. With all of these challenges, then, how can our country move forward?

Mvemvebegain by showing the audience a model of who could provide answers to these pressing issues. The idea was to think objectively about who should take the leading role in providing better accessibility and affordability for quality food and water to consumers.

food security

Mvemve identified determinants of food security as being availability, access, reliability and food distribution. He explained that the main challenges to urban food security are associated were rapid population growth, economic dynamics, multi-sectorialism and urbanisation.

It was immediately stressed that a better-integrated food security policy that could play a coordinating role between various governmental departments could go a long way towards benefitting access to food. Stronger governance is also needed surrounding land deals between private business interests and rural residents.

Effective support structures for farmers (through capacity building, for example), is also currently lacking, especially for emergent farmer. The private sector could certainly take a leading role in providing such services. In short, in order for truly successful food provision, all actors involved can take a more proactive role toward addressing food insecurity.

During the workshop, officials from different government sectors reached out to one another as a mandate to their offices to increase focus on food security issues. Collaboration between individuals from different sectors and industries was also witnessed in the workshop. Some insights from participants included:

From a private sector perspective: It is one thing to give land, but you must also provide business opportunities along with that land to ensure empowerment.

From a governmental perspective: We must accept that a farmer is his own entrepreneur; we need to contact them directly in order to understand their inherent needs.

From a farmer’s perspective: The farm is farming itself. What we need now is development of the community, and creating the opportunities to provide affordable quality food to these developments. We all need to take responsibility for food security. This does not merely rest on the private sector. What can we do from the community’s part to increase food security?

From a private sector perspective: We need to challenge our thinking about what crops we’re growing. By growing summer crops in winter weather (such as in the Western Cape) expensive farming techniques such as irrigation become necessary. What if we switch our focus to growing more indigenous crops?

From a non-profit organisational perspective: South Africa is quite an arid country. Given our soon to be doubling population, we need to think about methods that aren’t quite so dependent on water.

From an ecology development perspective: Look at nature and how it can help us. Nature farms in forests, so how can we create environments such as that which are self-sustainable?

The take-away conclusion was that society needs to better leverage its available resources (water, land, agriculture, and research) in order to increase food security. The first step towards leveraging these resources and solving food scarcity problems involves the coordination between the private, public and consumers.

Currently, activities amongst actors are uncoordinated. South Africa should seek a better combination of entrepreneurship, government, innovation and resources to ensure that not only is food made available, but that it is also accessible to South Africans. Innovative strategies dealing with the fundamental problems of food insecurity, rather than creating temporary solutions to surface problems is necessary.