Agricultural investment: the key to food security

Comprehensive research into the causes of food insecurity, followed by significant
investment in modern commercial farming techniques, is the only way to overcome food insecurity, says Limpopo agriculture MEC Dikeledi Magadzi. Fidelis Zvomuya reports.


Comprehensive research into the causes of food insecurity, followed by significant
investment in modern commercial farming techniques, is the only way to overcome food insecurity, says Limpopo agriculture MEC Dikeledi Magadzi. Fidelis Zvomuya reports.

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Investment in agricultural inputs based on research is the only key that can successfully assist in the fight against food insecurity, hunger and poverty in South Africa, says Limpopo agriculture MEC Dikeledi Magadzi. Magadzi says proper research to identify the causes of food insecurity and locate the areas affected is the only way ­government can achieve its target of food security for all, which it expects to attain by 2014.

There is much to be learned from the country’s commercial farmers when it comes to applying modern farming techniques and technology for food security purposes, she says. “Most emerging farmers still rely on traditional farming practices, which are unsustainable. There is a need to improve agricultural ­production in the smallholder sector by facilitating improved farming ­technology, research and the provision of ­necessary financial and material ­support to the communal farmers,” she says.

Magadzi’s calls come after the National Department of Agriculture’s (NDA’s) Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems (Fivims) 2004/05 research in the Sekhukhune district of Limpopo found that food insecurity was a major concern, as poverty continues to erode the dignity of 53% of the more than one million people in this district.

Factors for consideration
Sekhukhune, a vast, remote, and ­strategically unimportant district in terms of agricultural production, has low annual rainfall. Small and ­scattered subsistence farming, with ­isolated patches of commercial ­agriculture, sees rural areas faced with land ­degradation due to poor farming methods.

It is one of the country’s 13 national ­integrated sustainable rural development nodes identified as poverty-stricken hot spots. The district has a dispersed ­settlement in a largely mountainous area, ­predominantly rural, and has seen a sharp growth in mining in recent years.

The district was established in 2000 and consists of five local ­municipalities: Groblersdal, Marble Hall, Tubatse, Fetakgomo and Makhuduthamaga, ­covering an area of 1,3 million hectares.

The growth in the district’s mining ­sector has shrunk agricultural land and caused water shortages, putting Sekhu­khune in the midst of an agricultural crisis ­due to poor production, says Magadzi.

“Most of the people lost their land to ­mining ventures with the hope that jobs were going to be created. For the loss of their land, ­communities were given a pathetic ­compensation of R19 000 each household, resulting in them ­accusing government of putting land reform in reverse gear,” Magadzi says.

Children are most vulnerable
The World Food Programme’s (WFP’s) Rene Verduijn, seconded to the NDA as an adviser to the food security directorate, says their research found children in Sekhukhune suffer the most.

According to Verduijn more than half the children were undernourished, with as many as 36% sometimes going to bed hungry as there is simply not enough money to buy them food.

“The information we gathered produced a repository of an analytical report meant to inform civil society, planners, policy and decision-makers regarding relevant food security interventions that can be taken within the community,” Verduijn says.
About 94,7% of the people in ­Sekhukhune live in the rural areas, with the remainder ­residing in urban areas with their main source of income being government’s social grants.

The community is divided into two ­vulnerable groups. One is made up of the working poor, who lack land, capital, tools, livestock, literacy and farming skills. The other group is the under-employed who lack money to buy food.

Government aims to redistribute 30% of ­agricultural land by 2014, which Magadzi says may be unattainable if more rural people ­continue to lose land to other economic spheres
In support of Magadzi’s sentiments, ­Verduijn says their research found that 89% of the people own and live on lands which are too small for food production.

“More than 43% of those who use the land for cultivation or grazing were allocated it by tribal authorities. More than 40% of the households grow crops largely for supplementary purposes because they lack land and water,” he says.
Sekhukhune’s challenges call for major food security, political and policy reforms within local, provincial and national government departments aimed at turning the district into an agricultural green belt, Magadzi says.

Poor coordination within ­different government departments’ ­poverty alleviation projects is also to blame. “Since 2004 to date our province has invested more than R14 billion through ­different government departments’ ­poverty eradication initiatives, but still people face food shortages and there is nothing on the ground to match the financial injection. People remain food insecure,” Magadzi says.

Government has cross-cutting poverty alleviation and food security programmes in place: the integrated nutrition programme run by the health department, expanded public works programme by the public works department and the national school feeding programme by the education department.

Despite SA producing enough grain year-on-year with an average annual surplus of more than 2 million tons of maize, 14 ­million people in South Africa are food insecure.

The UN has put food security issues at the top of its Millennium ­Development Goals agenda, which the international ­community has agreed to attain by 2015. This year’s WFP theme called for the need to bolster agriculture, noting that more than two-thirds of the world’s hungry live in rural areas, and increased investment in agriculture is one of the most effective means to help them. But agriculture and land affairs minister Lulama Xingwana thinks farmers are causing these people to be food insecure by focusing on profit-making rather than feeding the nation.

According to Verduijn, the research ­identified the need to make water available for ­irrigation, which will see more people ­taking up irrigation farming which will bring in ­agribusiness and infrastructural development. “Our findings show that infrastructural developments, such as dam construction, will mitigate the effects caused by drought. This can be supported by the provision of land where the people can farm and produce” he says.

Lack of good roads has largely ­isolated the area from the main ­economic hubs thereby resulting in a lack of ­commercial and service infrastructure, and ­agribusiness, abattoirs and markets.

The promotion of small-scale ­household gardens will complement diets with ­nutritious foods, while dam construction will see the setting up of large-scale irrigation ­projects and this will reduce dependence on ­irregular rains and boost food production.

Agribusinesses that are more ­favourable to the poor can help encourage local agricultural production, which will see people having money in their pockets and not going hungry, Verduijn says.

Prevention is always less expensive than cure as it will be too late for preventative measures once a crisis has already erupted, he says.

Organised agriculture says they are ­prepared to work with government, as the country’s commercial farmers, despite limited resources, high input costs and unfavourable and unpredictable markets, are committed to alleviating the plight of the continent’s poor.

Bennie van Zyl, TAU SA general manager, says farmers have produced enough grain, and the government needs to come up with a programme that will see food becoming less expensive so that it can be accessed by the rural poor who are vulnerable to food insecurity. |fw