How Our Food System Creates Food-Hunger, and How Rise Mzansi Plans to Fix It

From rising food insecurity to environmental destruction, the current South African food system is full of problems. Chief among which, is its failure to effectively feed our people!
Written by
Mitchell Black
Published on
May 19, 2024

In a sobering revelation published by Shoprite Group, it is estimated that across the country 49% of people, ranging between 41% in the Western Cape and 54% in Limpopo, will be food insecure by 2025. In a country where mothers cannot feed themselves and their children, and so turn to murder-suicide, we cannot, and will not, ignore the glaring issues with our food system any longer.

Understanding the Root of Food Hunger

The problem is not that we are not producing enough food – our nation wastes over 10 million tonnes of food per year, or close to 45% of our non-export harvests. This only proves that our food system is not currently built for the purpose of sustainably feeding people and is obviously failing us. Put simply: it is not that people are hungry because of a lack of food, it is that people are poor and landless, and it is this combination that results in food-hunger.

Urgent Action Needed

There is a wisdom in the words “a hungry man knows no law”, and we must act before the deepening food-hunger crisis proves it to us. With Climate Change acting as a threat multiplier in the face of rising food prices and increasingly desperate people, what we are seeing is clearly the unfolding of a mass food-hunger crisis that merits a crisis-appropriate response before things get worse. If we consider the latest numbers from the Crop Estimates Committee assessing agricultural outputs on the back of a record-breaking El Niño cycle, they predict a 27% decline in white maize harvests compared to last year. This figure amounts to 6.277 million tonnes. It is clear that the time to act is now, and that piecemeal solutions like those put forward by the DA, aimed at expanding the basket of zero-rated foods or crashing the local poultry sector by reducing trade-tariffs on imported chicken, will not solve the problem.

Rise Mzansi's Three-Pronged Approach

The truth is that in South Africa, we are suffering from an out-dated food system, established during colonialism and Apartheid, that is incapable of dealing with modern challenges, such as the Climate Crisis or super-pests. Fundamentally, from its structure and organisation to its supporting institutions and ecocidal methods: the food system was not designed to feed our people and care for our land. Rather, it was designed to extract wealth, concentrate ownership, keep workers feeling full (but not actually well-fed) and reinforce the system of dependency between our nation and the Global-North. And modern smart-farming, often touted as the solution, does not address any of this.

In response to this crisis, RISE Mzansi will address food-hunger using three key policy mechanism and as set out across priority themes four and five of the Rise Mzansi’s Peoples Manifesto.

Firstly, and to address the immediate problem of people suffering from food-hunger today, Rise Mzansi will introduce a combination of government income grants and food discount vouchers for grant recipients in supermarkets. Through this, vulnerable South Africans will be able to secure the nutritious food they need.

Secondly, using the tools available to the state - as set out in the Constitution and used many times in the building of State infrastructure such as dams, railways, and roads – Rise will expropriate and redistribute land for the purpose of small-holder and medium-scale farming. Accompanying this, RISE Mzansi will focus on piping water to rural areas and identifying ‘green zones’ aimed at stimulating farming in rural and peri-urban areas. Furthermore, Rise Mzansi

believes South Africans should have access to not just land, but serviced land with adequate water and sanitation, supported by suitable financing mechanisms for establishing farms, installing rooftop solar power, and practicing agrivoltaics - farming under solar panels, as not all crops require full sun.

Lastly, while people begin accessing tenured land, RISE Mzansi will build programs, in cooperation with civil society organisations operating in the farming sector, to upskill individuals, families, and communities in the practice of regenerative agriculture. Through accessible multilingual educational content across multiple channels and platforms, we will ensure that people can learn how to design, plant, maintain, and care for their local agroecosystems. Necessarily, this would include skill transfer programs focussed on seed-saving techniques and seedbank management; home- and community-composting; mulching; appropriate crop selection; techniques for inter-cropping and integrated pest management; and methods for post-harvest processes that will all aid communities in building local food sovereignty.

Balancing Urgency with Long-Term Vision

Food hunger is both a problem for today, and potentially a much bigger problem for tomorrow. This is why RISE Mzansi’s approach balances urgent interventions with long-term strategies for food system transformation. Our focus is on gradually localising food production, minimising shocks to the existing system that might jeopardize food security, working alongside stakeholders and developing food production value chains that work for South Africans and South African food producers. We love our farmers and recognise fully the hard-work and value they offer society, and so these strategies are for them too. As this last El Niño has shown us, large-scale monocrop farming is fragile. And so, working with farmers, we need to build a food system that protects them and the broader community, instead of one that traps them in cycles of debt and makes them vulnerable to climate shocks. Farmers deserve our support.

In conclusion, we cannot continue to skirt around the borders of our Food-hunger crisis. RISE Mzansi will lead the fight to end food-hunger, alongside farmers and food system transformation experts, by tackling the systemic roots on the problem head on to create a food system that is truly by the people and for the people.

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