Hunger is undeniably an intensely personal and political issue. Hunger has laid waste to human civilizations from the dawn of time. It has driven conquest and war. It has birthed revolutions. Therefore it is absolutely critical that food security be at the top of any nation’s agenda.
A country is food secure when everyone has access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food. South Africa is considered a food secure state nationally. However, a recent study by Oxfam highlights the level of household food insecurity and malnutrition. It shows that South Africa produces enough calories to feed every one of its 53 million people, yet the reality is that one in four people are hungry on a regular basis. Furthermore, more than half of our population live on the very edge of food insecurity and are at risk of going hungry.
20% of farmers supply 80% of our food
South African agriculture continues to operate as a dual economy. It is estimated that 20% of South Africa’s producers supply 80% of the food in the formal retail chain. Commercial farmers, according to the Minister of Economic Development, account for 95% of the country’s locally produced food. The 32,000 commercial farmers play a critical role in local food production and ensuring food security. Whilst small holder farmers – ranging from emerging capitalist farmers across to household, subsistence farmers also play a key role in improving rural livelihood option and household food security.
This suggests that the remaining 5% of food is produced by the 220 000 emerging farmers and the 2 million subsistence farmers in the country. Agriculture is key to our food security and the sector has never before faced such a multitude and diversity of challenges.
Farmers have to find a way to produce enough food for us all in the face of volatility in international oil prices, rising local input costs, uncertainty about land reform and increasing labour discontent. Increasingly scarce arable land and water amplified by climate change will only increase their risk and vulnerability. The steady rise in food prices and often associated social unrest in a large number of countries show how important the agricultural sector is for social and economic stability, rural re-development and social cohesion.
Net importer of key food items like wheat and meat
With farmers already having to deal with increasing resource scarcity, policy uncertainty and limited direct investment in the agricultural sector, they are not keeping up. This means the country has recently become a net importer of key food items, including wheat and meat.
In an effort to address these challenges, WWF South Africa, has partnered with Nedbank to use their collective skills, experience and influence to support farmers and the associated sectors on the journey to find innovative solutions to some of the challenges addressed above. This includes celebrating and promoting our farmers as custodians of South Africa’s natural resource base, with their role in effectively maintaining healthy, functioning ecosystems within our farmlands, supporting the uptake of sustainable farming practices and fostering good landowner stewardship models.
Clean water, energy and electricity, and nutritious food are the pillars on which our society and economy rest. This means that future agriculture production systems are challenged to meet the increasing global food demand without further compromising the already limited natural resource base – land, water and energy.
Improved farming practices needed for optimal production
We need improved farming practices that support optimal production in all farms to ensure we can feed our growing population and support a vibrant food economy that actively contributes to job creation and economic growth, while maintaining the balance with nature. Everything we produce and consume has a direct link to the natural environment, and therefore has to be produced and consumed responsibly.
Systemic, governmental and institutional changes are needed to address our food insecurity – WWF-SA and Nedbank are committed to being at the forefront of sustainability issues in order to provide and drive appropriate solutions as partners with the agricultural sector. The fitting theme of World Food Day is Climate is Changing. Food and agriculture must too.
Take action on a personal scale
One of the biggest issues caused by climate change is food security – and we call on individuals to take action on a personal scale to review their own food choices and use their purchasing power to making planet friendly food choices, reduce their food waste and grow the recycling and re-use efforts. Whilst farms are encouraged to review and reduce their current resource use footprints on carbon, energy, water, land and to explore alternatives that can positively impact South Africa’s food security.
- It is estimated that we currently waste 30–40% of food at every step in the food chain. Even though the world produces more than enough food to feed everybody this is not evenly distributed, and up to a third of all food produced is wasted. Cutting down on food waste throughout the value chain is key to the more sustainable and efficient use of the limited available resources needed to farm our food and you can do this by becoming conscious of how you as a consumer use your food resources. Buy smaller quantities of fresh produce or perishable goods by shopping more frequently and sourcing local, seasonal products. Get creative with your leftovers – freeze them for soups or broths, use them in other dishes and compost your food waste.
- Consciously try to make far more sustainable food choices. It is easy to eat high-protein, highly processed foods and empty-calorie diets but in the long run this is detrimental to our environment, our food security and our health. Consider the source of your protein because high-protein diets have a dramatic impact on our planet. A sustainable solution is to reduce our daily consumption of red meat and to source natural, range-fed meat. Selecting grass fed over grain is an easy to remember guide to consuming meat.
- Know what’s in your food. Read your food labels, do the research and increase your voice as a consumer. This will also help you to support products and restaurants that demonstrate responsible food choices. Examples are SASSI sustainable seafood, rangeland grass-fed beef, free-range chickens, fair-trade, organic or badger-friendly honey, sustainably produced wine such as those promoted by the WWF Conservation Champions label, ‘Farming for Future’ products.
- Grow your own food by starting a vegetable garden – even if it is just to understand how challenging and yet rewarding farming food can be. Support your local organic food markets and start community food gardens or establish a free-access pavement food garden.
- Be water-wise and install rainwater tanks and grey-water systems in your household. Share your knowledge and learning with others by forming and participating in study groups on agroecology, soil health and fertility, resource efficiency and waste reduction. Be neighbourly by participating in collaborative platforms such as fire protection associations, conservancies, and water stewardship efforts in your catchment.
As Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) summed up “Agriculture has done more to reshape the natural world than anything else we do, both its landscapes and its flora and fauna. Our eating (and drinking) constitutes a relationship with dozens of other species – plants, animals and fungi – with which we have co-evolved to the point where our fates are deeply intertwined.” So in celebration of World Food Day make your future food choices count for the future prosperity of ourselves, our planet and our people.”
By Inge Kotze, Senior Manager, Sustainable Agriculture, WWF-SA.