Post Covid-19, a rural revolution can drive food security for South Africa

20 Jul 2020

JOHANNESBURG – When this crisis is over, we will have a chance to reshape national production through the development of rural agriculture and agro-processing. We must re-instill the old values that communities had for agriculture by making farming skills and self-sufficiency fashionable again.

The reconstruction, growth and transformation in building a new Inclusive Economy must target the development of rural agriculture and manufacturing in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West and Free State to make it a base for competitive Food Production as a solution for South African self-sufficiency and export.

Food security has declined in South Africa and woes in rural communities that use to be self-sufficient, basic fruits and vegetables are more expensive than before and rural communities are buying fruits and vegetables currently, a new trend that need to be quickly changed.

The recovery must begin by ending hunger and food insecurity locally as that will make South Africa become stronger again and have lower food prices to benefit all families. Developing agricultural infrastructure is the key starting point. Post Covid-19, nothing less than a revolution in rural sustainable development can prevent another crisis.

Decentralizing agriculture and industrial development was highly discussed in South in 1912, it was later topical again in 1960 focusing on agriculture and industrialization in the bantustan regions like Ciskei, Transkei, Gazankulu and Bophuthatswana and the challenges of economic development and decentralization in the bantustan in 1982, with tons of studies showing interventions in agriculture and decentralized industrialization, we have nothing to match our studies as a nation.

Prioritizing strategy execution is a most important culture South Africa needs. Bantustan agriculture and industrial development is not a new theme, a difference now is South Africa has developed economists, agronomists, environmental experts, climate change and sustainability practitioners that must be carefully arranged to assist in developing communities. 

“South Africa remains a highly unequal society where too many people live in poverty and too few workers. The quality of school education for most black learners is poor. The apartheid spatial divide continues to dominate the landscape. A large proportion of young people feel that the odds are stacked against them. And the legacy of apartheid continues to determine the life opportunities for the vast majority.

“These immense challenges can only be addressed through a step-change in the country’s performance. To accelerate progress, deepen democracy and build a more inclusive society, South Africa must translate political emancipation into economic wellbeing for all. It is up to all South Africans to fix the future, starting today. To eliminate poverty and reduce inequality, the economy must grow faster and in ways that benefit all South Africans” citing the ANC Economic Development document accepting that all people in their communities must unite to develop their regional economic development to add into the gross domestic product for the country. 

The primary goal for South Africa’s public and private sector is to solve the youth unemployment crisis and provide a solution for affordable food prices for all people. 

For decades, thinking and strategies around food have developed in silos, with little coordination between communities working on nutrition, agriculture, food, environment, water, health, climate, employment, trade or transport. This has generated serious problems – from policies that provide cheap calories but lead to high rates of diet-related diseases, to market innovations that prioritize efficiency above all and production systems that contribute to climate change and biodiversity loss.

Families at rural communities have land for agriculture, however, families stopped using their farms because of a breed of family members who loved urban living and neglected small scale farms that their grandparents used to self-sustaining their families and communities. In recent years, we started to witness Good Friday celebrations without harvesting tons of vegetables, which was a norm or culture in rural areas. What we left thinking is not attractive, now is the most needed sector to resolve global food challenges. 

Municipalities in rural communities must work positively with kings and chiefs to allocate land for rural development, to give our municipalities and communities a competitive advantage to produce high-quality food for industrial processing purposes and exporting. Special Economic Development zones will need different agricultural products mainly at Limpopo, Mpumalanga, as the industrial development zones in those areas will have majority agro-processing smart factories and smart industries. 

Maize farming is important for the South African economy because it is the bread and butter of thousands of commercial and small-scale farmers. Most of the maize produced in South Africa is consumed locally. Maize farming in South Africa has been one of the occupations of most indigenous people in Southern part of Africa.

The South African maize industry was deregulated in 1997 and is operating in a free-market environment. This means that producers may sell to whomever they wish and prices are determined by supply and demand. The Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West provinces being the largest producers. The maize industry is also an important earner of foreign exchange for the country through exports of maize and maize products.

South Africa can have a competitive advantage in Maize, Wheat, Tomatoes, Potatoes, Citrus fruits and other vegetables and fruits to support agro-processing industries domestically and exporting to global markets. Creating Access to markets for smallholder farmers and established farmers needs to be prioritized to assist farmers with off-take agreements and funding for framers. Although maize farming requires knowledge and skill, maize is quite easy to produce compared to many other crops. 

The changes of agriculture functions into the new Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD), while the forestry and fisheries functions were incorporated into the new Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries. A purposeful Division of Revenue Formula must be carefully designed to benefit Agriculture and rural development in the inland and coastal regions.

Socioeconomic development and production capacity will require a change of attitudes and discipline, the transformation will never take place overnight, it requires our full attention, knowledge and wisdom, continuous critical and analytical thinking and solves as many problems weekly to close the whole gap of bantustan underdevelopment. 

Rural agricultural production will add value in decent employment through inclusive economic growth, creating more cooperatives in rural communities to manage agriculture and agro-processing, training for farmers and operational management for farms as attractive businesses. Every Mayor, municipal manager and Counsellors in rural communities must report on the agricultural and agro-processing production in their wards and municipalities, while other sectors are prioritized as well. 

According to Statistics South Africa’s (Stats SA) General Household Survey (GHS) of 2018, only 14,8 percent of South African households were involved in some sort of agricultural production activities during the reference period. While 37.1 percent of households in Limpopo and 29.3 percent of households in Eastern Cape engaged in some agricultural activity, participation was much lower in Western Cape (2.5 percent) and Gauteng (4 percent). Of the households that were involved in agriculture, 10.1 percent cultivated farmland while 90.3 percent created backyard gardens.

Nationally, more than three-quarters (75.6 percent) of households that were involved in agriculture were involved in an attempt to secure an additional source of food. Provincially, 88.7 percent of households in Limpopo, and 78.8 perrcent of households in Mpumalanga were engaged in agricultural activities as a way to augment their existing sources of food. Of the households that were engaged in agricultural production, 50.6 percent cultivated grains, and 53.3 percent grew fruit and vegetables. Livestock was produced by 48.7 percent of the country’s households while 36.6 percent produced poultry.

The United Nations research shows that as farming systems have modernised and intensified, the amount of land available for farming has been growing ever more slowly. On current trends, arable land will grow at a rate of 0.4 percent in countries for which data is available, despite improvements in irrigation and farming technology. The Food and Agricultural Organization calls for nations to strengthen local production and shorten food supply chains.

Resetting a Division of Revenue formula in favour of Rural Development can produce better outcomes for South African economic development and growth, prioritizing investments in agriculture, manufacturing technologies and introducing standards to improve (Antswisa) farming systems and management of farms with better monitoring using modern technologies.

The Recession and Covid-19 crisis open an opportunity to accelerate food system transformation and new business models are needed. It is the time to speed-up e-commerce in agriculture and food systems across the South African provinces to link to the global economy for better market access and share that’s inclusive and shared for all farmers.

Rural development and lower population density can be compatible with continued economic growth and sustainability. Developing agricultural infrastructure will create employment opportunities across the skills spectrum and will sustainably deploy the natural capital of less-developed countries. The homeland’s use to have attractive agricultural fields in areas such as Giyani and Nkowankowa where I come from, the farmer’s use to harvest stunning crops such as corn, bananas, mangoes, citrus, tomatoes, potatoes, pawpaw’s, sugarcanes, avocados at the back of their homes and also beautiful farms, but now it’s all dry like we are in drought while not.

A delayed restructuring of the South African economy can cause the country to experience an L-shaped economic recovery. We still have major global risks with the top five being environmental risks, that need strategic mitigation to manage them for lesser impact. 

We must call on national leaders, the provincial government, regional leaders, Chief’s and Kings to have a solution for food security in South Africa and we must all reflect on the environmental and Covid-19 challenges, we have to clear our minds, listen to nature and environmental challenges and continuously ponder on what we have learned in this crisis. Teamwork is needed to address South Africa’s water and climate change challenges, our future is in our hands and we must take responsibility for economic development, unless it will not happen. Project preparation in agriculture and agroprocessing will encourage collaboration, innovative funding solutions and Market access.

By: Miyelani Mkhabela

Original article here

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