Humanity welcomed its 7 billionth member on October 31. The African population is expected to double to 2 billion people by 2050.
This makes it the fastest growing continent in the world, and while faced with enormous challenges and risks for food security, the resultant increased demand for food has the potential to overwhelm global commodity markets and threatens ever-widening starvation levels.
On the one hand, a more populated African continent means new opportunities for businesses to market their goods; on the other hand that opportunity is inextricably linked to the responsibility that business has to ensure that sustainable growth takes place on the continent. By implication, emerging markets will need to be grown sustainably and small-scale farmers will need to be supported by businesses, which stand to benefit from a larger marketplace in which to sell their goods.
Food security has massive social ramifications. The price of bread as a staple food has always been a powerful driver of revolt. We need only consider history to know that after the French wheat crop failed in 1789 the price of bread in Paris leapt by 88 percent within a single year, giving a powerful impetus to the French Revolution. At the beginning of this year food security was linked to freedom when the Arab Spring broke in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Jordan, among others, with cries of “bread and freedom” being heard in the streets.
The dramatic surge in social unrest in recent months has confirmed social scientists’ warnings: that food price increases threaten the socio-economic and political stability of the world’s poorest countries.
The new mood of global dissatisfaction seen in the Occupy Wall Street movement shows that instability is starting to affect the middle classes as people begin to question the current economic order. The debt crisis in Greece has put the euro zone in a tenuous position, which has had a negative impact on global bourses, all posing threats to food and social security.
The link between food security and social order is part of the social compact. In 1944 in his State of the Union address, US President Franklin D Roosevelt presented a social and economic programme that he hoped would expand on the Bill of Rights of the day. In that speech he warned: “Necessitous men are not free men.”
The harsh reality is that sustainable economic growth and the political stability needed to develop economies will not take place in a world where people are hungry and jobless.
Despite the continent’s structural problems and the relentless focus on aid and debt relief, Africa’s best chance for prosperity and stability will not come from dependency on foreign aid, but from sustained private investment and enterprise, and this will undeniably have to include partnerships with local communities within which companies choose to operate.
Connecting with local suppliers and entrepreneurs means working closely with partners in terms of ensuring that you are offering the right ranges and products in each of the environments you operate in, and this is the process we at Pick n Pay have followed in Africa. But importantly, local supply, local community development and entrepreneurial support are critical.
In South Africa, we recognise how vital food security is and invest a considerable amount of money and expertise in developing initiatives that help emerging farmers to increase their crop yields and to gain entry into the food supply chain. Gaining access to market, especially given the high standards demanded by the top retailers, is one of the major stumbling blocks facing emerging farmers and producers. Through partnerships in this area, we are bringing more and more small-scale farmers and producers into the supply chain.
As part of its commitment to food security, Pick n Pay has also invested heavily in the protection of seafood. We have done this through our commitment to transforming our entire fresh, frozen and canned seafood operations by the end of 2015 through becoming the first retailer in South Africa to sign a partnership agreement with the WWF Sustainable Fisheries Programme. This partnership has seen Pick n Pay invest R6.1 million into creating a sustainable seafood industry in order to halt the exploitation of this valuable resource, which is the primary source of income for some 2.6 billion people globally.
The financial investment in the programme is being used to restore over-exploited fish stocks to sustainably managed levels, while maintaining or improving the state of other stocks. It is also being used to train and educate those involved in the seafood industry on sustainable practices. This partnership was highlighted by WWF South Africa in its Fisheries, Facts and Trends South Africa report, released on November 2.
But it is agriculture in South Africa which faces the biggest challenge: we have seen a decrease in the numbers of commercial farmers, with fewer than 40 000 remaining and this, in part, has already caused South Africa to become a net importer of food. Of great concern is the projection by Absa AgriBusiness that this figure will drop to 15 000 farmers over the next 15 years. Without the requisite development of the country’s agricultural sector, there is the possibility that, eventually, the government will not be able to feed its own people and secondly, that in relying on imports to cover demand, international prices will have to be paid for these.
While finding local suppliers and entrepreneurs requires determination and effort, it is key to our business model in South Africa and in the rest of Africa.
There is no doubt that the potential of small-scale farmers could be part of the solution to global food insecurity and poverty reduction. Investing in small-scale farmers is just the first step in helping to make their livelihood more sustainable and Pick n Pay does this through the Ackerman Pick n Pay Foundation, which has always encouraged self-reliance and supports community-based income generation activity as well as the development of small suppliers to Pick n Pay.
The foundation houses two trusts: the Pick n Pay Enterprise Development Fund, which supports small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs, and the Ackerman Pick n Pay Fund, which supports community-based groups with income-generation goals and activities through financial assistance and other resources. Through these initiatives we seek to implement the idea that doing good is good business, and that by working effectively to address food security we are creating not only a better future for the continent and its burgeoning population, but a landscape in which ethical business practices can flourish.
Ultimately, I believe we should recognise the sheer complexity of the nexus between hunger, poverty, corruption and conflict, for all are part of the same equation. We can no longer discuss food security as if it could be reduced to a simple blueprint for the development of new technologies to increase the yield of a few cereal grains.
The solutions to the very real obstacles faced by the world’s poorest regions can only be political. Food security in our own country cannot be ensured if the government fails to give more realistic and non-ideological attention and support to agriculture and rural development. That must mean the design of a policy and regulatory framework that encourages, rather than inhibits, development. The creation of conditions that boost private sector investment in agriculture globally is vital.
For Pick n Pay, doing good is good business and is one of our key values.
Ultimately, we need to stop taking food for granted. As history as shown, we do this at our peril.
Gareth Ackerman is the chairman of Pick n Pay Stores and the Pleiad Foundation.