The second annual International Conference for Food Safety and Security is on at St George’s Hotel in Centurion
POLICY certainty was needed now more than ever to enable the country to ensure food stability and allow for the agricultural sector to thrive and drive the economy.

This was especially with regards to policies on land, water, demand side management and market access plus agreements with major Middle Eastern and Asian countries, according to Dr John Purchase, chief executive of the Agricultural Business Chamber of SA.

Purchase was speaking at the second annual International Conference for Food Safety and Security at St George’s Hotel in Centurion yesterday.

The conference was organised as a platform to allow stakeholders to discuss the challenges experienced in food safety and security and how to make a difference.

He said policy certainty was crucial, and although the agro food system had been steady due to the industry’s resilience, it was hit badly by the lack of policy certainty. Despite being able to hold its own, Purchase said the country had regressed in terms of food security and competitiveness.

“We need policy certainty so that people know that if they invest they have a good chance of getting a return on the money invested.”

One alternative to consider was the possibility of a Agricultural Development Fund made up of a R2.5billion investment from the government and R7.5bn from the private sector to ensure farmers had access to finance.

Purchase believed this hampered many smallholdings from thriving.

He said such a public-private partnership could benefit 2.5 million people and unlock 17m hectares in communal areas to be a demand-led market development so the markets would lead and create a pool. “We can have transformation, food security, job growth, household income and sector investments outcomes if we get this right.”

The three-day conference will cover a range of sub-themes including current and emerging microbial foodborne pathogens, pesticides and mycotoxins - a food safety challenge.

Other themes include consumer and food safety and security assurance, risk assessment, management and communication.

Professor Lise Korsten, convener of the conference, said they hoped it would strengthen community science that could provide practical real time solutions for the formal and informal sector.

Korsten said that while the initial thinking around food security in the 1950s was more on producing more food to feed the world, that had shifted to a more holistic approach.

“The world’s biggest proportion of hungry, malnourished and poor live in developing countries and therefore the solution should be focused on indigenous knowledge with supporting innovation and technology."