FILE PHOTO: Vineyards are seen near Cape Town, South Africa
CAPE TOWN - Nearly 90 percent of women on grape farms in South Africa have reported not having enough to eat the previous month. 

A report released by Oxfam yesterday said that about 30 percent said they or a family member had gone to bed hungry at least once during the time. 

The report, titled “Ripe For Change”, found that millions of people who produced food were forced to work long hours in appalling conditions for little reward, with women concentrated in the worst-paid and least-secure positions, while powerful corporate food giants pocketed billions in profits and shareholder returns. 

Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International’s executive director, said the international aid agency heard of fruit farmers who had been sprayed with pesticides while in the field and women forced to take pregnancy tests to work at seafood processing plants. 

“This injustice should not be on store shelves, especially when the food industry generates billions of dollars and handsomely rewards shareholders and others at the top,” Byanyima said. 

Oxfam said the fact that food producers and their families often went to bed hungry was one of the cruellest paradoxes of modern times. 

The report said food production continued to attract investment from some of the richest and most powerful elites in the world. It said Walmart, the world’s largest food retailer, generated revenue of nearly $486bn (R6.6 trillion) in 2016 – more than the gross national income of oilrich Nigeria. “The eight largest publicly owned supermarkets in the world generated some $1 trillion from sales in 2016 and nearly $22bn in profit,” the report said. “Rather than reinvest in their suppliers, the same year they returned over $15bn to shareholders in cash.”

Top rates of annual pay for chief executives had been handsome too, the report said. “In less than five days, the highest paid chief executive at a UK supermarket earns the same as a woman picking grapes on a typical farm in South Africa will earn in her entire lifetime.” 

Oxfam said power and wealth accrued to those at the top, while the biggest increase in billionaires was seen last year, with 82 percent of the growth in global wealth captured by the world’s richest 1 percent. This is an inequality crisis that is reflected in and driven by the food supply system, said the report. The report showed that supermarkets had established an unparalleled dominance over food retailing, giving them the power to squeeze value from vast supply chains, and generate billions in corporate profits and shareholder dividends. 

Oxfam said the concentration was high and rising at the retail end of food supply chains as well, where most supermarkets had established a business model that had given them an ever-tighter hold on food sales in many markets. “Supermarkets in middle-income countries, such as South African company Shoprite, have mimicked the business model and similarly expanded – first from urban to rural areas, and then to neighbouring countries, often at the expense of local shops and markets

“The Shoprite group now operates more than 2 000 outlets in 15 African countries, and recorded a trading profit of some R7.2 billion in 2016,” the report stated. Oxfam and partners conducted surveys last year of hundreds of small-scale farmers and workers in supermarket supply chains across five countries using the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale method. Another survey by Women on Farms Project in April last year of more than 100 women grape workers in De Doorns, Stellenbosch and Wolseley found that 92 percent of those surveyed were classified as food-insecure and 78 percent were classified as severely food-insecure.