File picture: Babu

Parliament – Grain South Africa on Friday again raised the prospect of “food riots” as a result of an expected hike in food prices caused by persistent drought conditions in the country.

Briefing Parliament’s portfolio committee on agriculture, Grain South Africa CEO Jannie de Villiers said South Africans should brace for a tough year ahead as the country was set to import millions of tonnes of grain as a result of low yields brought on by the drought.

Read: Drought ‘could push SA into recession’

“We have done a study of what happened in 2007/2008 in the world where the Arab spring took place and there’s some work being done that says there’s a high correlation when you’ve got high food prices and food riots. There’s a big possibility that it could happen in South Africa,” said De Villiers.

“When we look at what’s going to happen to food prices, we see it’s going to increase substantially and there might be that there’s going to be some public revolt about that.”

The biggest challenge for 2016, according to Grain SA, was to bring enough food into the country.

Read: Food inflation in shock rise to 8.7%

South Africa’s agriculture department predicts South Africa would have to import 3.8 million tonnes of maize to keep the nation fed.

“The 3.8 million tonnes [of possible imports] is based on a crop estimate of 7.4 million tonnes [locally] and as we’ve seen it hasn’t rained in the producing areas and that 7.4 might be very optimistic,” said De Villiers.

“The problem for 2017 is, can the farmers plant again if the rain comes because they might not have the cash to do it.”

He said the agriculture sector, government and captains of industry had to sit down and work out how it would cushion the poor against the devastating effects of the drought, specifically soaring food prices.

Read: Skyrocketing food prices to hit pockets

“The food is going to be expensive. There’s lots of people who won’t afford that and they are going to be in trouble and and we need to put some food security net in place to help them.”

In addition to maize, other grains would also have to be imported. Early estimates suggest two million tonnes of wheat needed to be imported, 900 000 tonnes of rice, 300 000 tonnes of soya beans, 100 000 tonnes of sunflower seeds, 60 000 tones of barley, and 20 000 tonnes of peanuts.