President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration could score a profound victory if it were to improve quality of life through the food security system more than anything. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi African News Agency (ANA)
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration could score a profound victory if it were to improve quality of life through the food security system more than anything. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi African News Agency (ANA)

Social development must improve food security system for our people

By Bheki Mfeka Time of article published May 19, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG – The more than 3 million projection of job losses in South Africa as a result of Covid-19 are simply an addition to high levels of poverty and inequality in South Africa.

A social security system that improves quality of food and distribution whilst supporting social enterprises will go a long way to achieving development and inclusive growth targets, and maintain dignity to people. The Covid-19 food parcel scandals have given us an opportunity to reflect on the need to revamp the entire food security value-chain and sustainability of the system.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration could score a profound victory if it were to improve quality of life through the food security system more than anything.

This is an urgent matter that cannot be taken lightly by authorities because of potential poverty impact if the system is not improved. Whilst the poverty headcount ratio at national poverty lines as percentage of the population fell gradually from 66.6 percent in 2005 to 55.5 percent in 2014, Covid-19 is bound to worsen poverty ratio from 2020/21.

Food poverty line (FPL) refers to the amount of money an individual will need to be able to meet required minimum daily energy intake. These FPLs according to March 2015 prices were R441 per person per month.

According to Leaving Conditions Standards (LCS) 2014/15 more than one out of every five adults (20.6 percent) were living below the food poverty line in 2015, while  a  third  (33.8 percent) were living below the lower-bound poverty line (R647 per person per month) and approximately half (49.2 percent) were living below the upper-bound poverty line (R992 per person per month).

During the periods of Covid-19 crises poverty ratio is likely to spike back pre-2005 levels at more than 66 percent of the population.

The sustainability of the Social Development’ social security budget will soon come into spotlight as we are likely to reach a fiscal cliff in the next 2 to 3 years. The question that should pre-occupy the Department, politicians, and economists beyond South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) questionable distribution efficiencies is: how can we further leverage R213.7billion budget for social grants to contribute to the well-being of indigent communities.

The question of leveraging the social grants is not only a financial matter but also a health, social, development, and inclusive economic growth matter. There are so many gaps in the system in that if we could realign it, we could see much value for the society.

Since we are still in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the food parcel distribution corruption and poor dietary content of the parcels is an embarrassment to the nation which requires urgent attention. On its own the ministration by the Department can be a source for penetration of infirmity and perpetual dependency, of the socially active population, to government for survival.

The social grants budget is amongst the top in developing countries in the world and is lauded for improving lives of the poorest. South Africa spends 4 percent of the GDP on social grants, taking care of more than 16 million people. Again, with recession and low economic growth an expanding social grant budget is not sustainable.

The key question could be asked regarding the manner and the quality of food the indigent communities are receiving. Are people receiving quality of food that boosts their immune system? Is the distribution of food parcels an efficient system, can it be streamlined through district food banks and vouchers system that benefit social enterprises?

The voucher system based on food banks can be introduced and be customised to the needs of South Africa and respond to many inequality and empowerment questions that relate to the African poor predominantly women, youth, and people with disabilities. Better savings and quality diet for the poor can be realized through food bank system than the current system that sends the indigents straight to retail and loan sharks for slaughter.

There are many food distribution systems in the world with different elements that can be customized to South Africa such as some elements of the United States’ Food Stamps Programme we may look at to improve our Programme including the school feeding schemes. The food banks and voucher systems can be integrated into President Ramaphosa’s District Development Model; and food banks can strictly and primarily source from local farmers and suppliers in the form of community co-operatives.

The active co-operatives must gain access to land for farming by receiving first priority in the soon to be constitutionalized “land expropriation without compensation” related programmes.

The National and District Food Purchasing Programme (NDFPP) can be established and have a variety of food products in support of the Department of Social Development food programme; national school feeding scheme and other feeding programs. These NDFPP purchases help to stabilize prices in agricultural commodity markets by balancing supply and demand.

The last and final question is how do we “corruption-proof” the food security system from all sort of fraudsters in communities? Food banking system, like the financial banking system requires a very stringent regulatory mechanism and must be run by professionals.

Off course no matter how stringent the system may be there will always be corruption, what matters at the end of the day will be the consequences for those who are found at the wrong side of the law. Taking from the poor deserves the highest form of punishment as if you were stealing directly from God.

Dr Bheki Mfeka, Economic Advisor and Strategist at SE Advisory, and former advisor to the Presidency. He writes in his personal capacity. Twitter: @bhekimfeka Email: [email protected]

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