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The Land Bank says a global index that ranked SA 40th out of 105 countries for food security is cause for concern and suggests the country could miss its target of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty by 2015.
The index, released on Tuesday by the Economist Intelligence Unit, placed SA 13th out of 28 comparable middle-income countries such as Chile, Russia and Mexico.
Land Bank spokesman Musa Mchunu said there was reason to worry over the results because the country was “far” from achieving food security.
This meant that “a lot of people are still going hungry because food is either not available to them, or they cannot afford it (in view of the recent high global food prices) or the food they are consuming is of low nutritional value”, he said.
“There is therefore the possibility that we may not reach the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.”
When asked why the country was ranked so low, especially when land was available for farming, Mchunu said the government was still “grappling” with the issue of land redistribution, but the challenges had been “daunting”.
Among the issues was the optimal usage of agricultural land. “Many beneficiaries of land reform have struggled with the unique challenges of agriculture, which, among others, include market access, financial and business management skills (and) changing technologies,” he said.
This meant that large tracts of land remained “either fallow or inefficiently utilised”.
Mchunu said this had contributed to reduced agricultural production domestically and an increase in imported items, which came at high prices, especially given recent high global food prices.
“The recent increase in food prices means that even available food might not be accessible to most South Africans, given the high unemployment rate and wages that fail to keep up with inflation,” Mchunu said.
The DA said “South Africa simply has to do better”.
Annette Steyn, the party’s spokeswoman on agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said “food security is a prerequisite to economic growth and job creation”.
“The truth is that you cannot educate a hungry child, and you cannot hope for productive employment if citizens are going without food. If the government is serious about creating jobs, as it claims, it will move with urgency to implement our suggestions,” she said in a statement listing proposals to improve food security.
She said her party had three policy interventions that would help:
* The Agricultural Marketing Council must establish a grain tracking database. Farmers would know at any given time what volume of maize there was, where it was and to whom it belonged. It would also avoid overexporting (cheaply) and then having to import (expensively) when local supply ran out due to underplanting.
* Land under communal tenure in the former homelands should be converted to individual title deed.
* The government should work harder to secure regional prosperity. It should take a tougher stand against its Southern African Development Community partners when they failed to provide the kind of political stability that was necessary to ensure sufficient agricultural productivity to create food security.
Mchunu said his organisation was also making an effort to “play a greater role” in food security. Some of the measures included:
* Programmes to bring historically disadvantaged communities into the mainstream of the economy by financing emerging farmers through a division dedicated solely to development farmers.
* Partnering with the government to resuscitate farms in distress and raising affordable funding for agricultural purposes.
* Partnering with the private sector in mentorship for new farmers as well as facilitating off-take agreements for the new farmers, among others.
According to Sapa, Land Bank chief executive Phakamani Hadebe said a new approach was needed to sustain food security as the world moved towards the 22nd century. “We really have to review the way we do business. Food security will demand new thinking and a new approach,” he said.
Hadebe was briefing reporters in Pretoria at the signing of a multibillion agricultural loan deal between the bank and agricultural services and food group Afgri.
Afgri CEO Chris Venter said Africa’s thriving population would soon put pressure on the continent’s food reserves. “We want to continue to expand our footprint into Africa. We need this partnership to ensure the sustainability of food security and we can’t do that on our own.”
Meanwhile, the government news service reported on Wednesday that AU commissioner for rural economy and agriculture Rhoda Tumusiime said the continent’s food requirements had grown due to the expanding population. Food security was on the agenda of the AU summit this weekend. “Food security remains a challenge for the continent. While in the past four years we have seen an increase in production, the problems in the Horn of Africa still concern us,” said Tumusiime.
In May, the US announced a $3 billion (about R24bn) plan to boost food security and farm productivity in Africa.