Friday, August 08, 2008

South Africa: High Food Prices Has Left Rural Communities Vulnerable

POOR people, especially in the rural areas, are finding it difficult to cope with the rocketing high food prices on their thin wages or social grants.

Higher food prices are leading poor people to shift to unbalanced diets, leaving them vulnerable to disease.

In the recent past months, food-price inflation has seen the price of basic foodstuffs increasing by 14 percent in South Africa, mostly due to increased prices of commodities such as fuel.

Chief Executive Officer National Agricultural Marketing Council, Ronald Ramabulana said this had lead poor people to shift to unbalanced diets leading them vulnerable to diseases and infections.

According to Mr Ramabulana, impoverished households are spending up to 50 to 60 percent of their overall budget on food.

Their earnings go firstly towards food then non-alcoholic beverages, followed by housing, water, electricity, gas, fuel and transport.

Government has noted with concern the plight of the poor in this regard and has changed its focus on strengthening the agriculture industry and giving more support to emerging farmers.

Government Spokesperson Themba Maseko said on Thursday the current situation was presenting an opportunity to develop a vibrant and sustainable agricultural programme to meet the country's food requirements and to make South Africa a net exporter of food.

Government will implement medium to long term strategies to deal with rising food prices.

These include measures to increase the country's food production capabilities through support and strengthening of small and emerging farmers and cooperatives; the development of agricultural trade and tariff policies; enhancing freight rail infrastructure to support the movement of agricultural products; implementation of the Llima/Letsema campaign and the creation of food gardens by communities and households.

These are some of the measures needed to increase food production and strengthening the value chain with a view to reducing reliance on food imports.

The national chairperson of the National Emergent Red Meat Producer's Organisation (NERPO), Wilson Muvhulawa said investment in agricultural infrastructure as part of local economic development could also assist in supporting farmers.

"Rural and agricultural development is crucial to combat national unemployment and poverty since the majority of people live in remote areas," he said.

Mr Muvhulawa said there was a need for investment in skills within the commercial agricultural sector, to improve management and entrepreneurial skills both of farm workers and managers in the primary sector and develop skills related to global food safety and quality standards.

A large percentage of employees are semi-literate and a need exists for Adult Based Education and Training programmes to improve their educational base as a platform for further learning. Courses currently exist, but are under funded and a sustainable funding model for providing such courses needs to be found, according to Mr Muvhulawa.

Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister, Lulu Xingwana, said recently that rising input costs globally seriously threatens the sustainability and the ability of the sector to supply enough food at affordable prices.

According to the minister, there are many reasons why input prices soared over the past year, but she singled out three factors.

"These are the ongoing hikes in oil and natural gas prices, high demand for fertiliser due to increased production for food and bio-fuel and high demand for food across the world," she said.

Between January 2006 and May 2008, maize and wheat grain prices rose by 114.1 and 107.1 percent, meanwhile, soybean and rice prices increased by 114.7 and 218.4 percent respectively.

Last week, the department held a three-day national agricultural consultative conference in Limpopo focusing on the increased productivity, optimum utilisation of agricultural, food security and rising food prices.

It was an opportunity for the agriculture sector to get together to thrash out ideas on how to further support farmers and fight the high food prices.

The proposed National Food Control Agency announced by President Thabo Mbeki in July, following the Cabinet Lekgotla will deal with issues such as strengthening the agro-processing industry, food safety, sanitary and phyto-sanitary certification and promote industry exports.

The agency will not regulate food prices, however, and the legislative framework will be finalised by the end of March 2009, after consultation with the relevant stakeholders.

The agency will not regulate food prices, however, and the legislative framework will be finalised by the end of March 2009, after consultation with the relevant stakeholders

High Food Prices Has Left Rural Communities Vulnerable, Washington