Feeding the hungry could benefit the wheat and bread industry

Some 20% of South African households are food insecure with inadequate access to food.

Investing in food and nutrition not only makes enormous political, economic and social sense, but it will also give a significant boost to the bread and wheat industry, which currently produces 2,7 billion loaves a year. “We don’t always take hunger seriously,” Geoff Penny, executive of food charity Food Bank South Africa, said at the SA Chamber of Baking’s annual general meeting in Umhlanga recently.

Lindie Stroebel, Agricultural Business Chamber (ABC) manager for economic intelligence, said there were ample resources available
locally and in Southern Africa to feed these people. “If there’s a market, there will always be a supply. However, we have to generate income, so that all those hungry people can afford good quality and nutritious food. The solution is to stimulate job creation through business development and structural economic growth as a whole.”

Meanwhile, South Africa already has a web of social grants, including a child grant, foster child grant, a grant for older persons, a disability grant and care dependency grant, which puts money in the pockets of the poor. While the child grant is intended to be spent on food for children, Stroebel said in reality it was mostly spent on alcohol, cigarettes, telephone costs and the lotto. “Food coupons, or school feeding programmes, could be much more beneficial towards its target of feeding children. However, the challenge is to manage corruption.”

The introduction of a basic income grant, along the lines of Brazil’s ‘Bolsa Familia’ which benefits about 50 million Brazilians, would also boost food spending. “Brazil presents a successful case study of the benefits of a basic income grant,” said Dr Roelof Botha, an economist.

“About 95% of the grant money is spent on food but (the Brazilian government) made 100% sure that the supply chain was geared for this huge demand intervention. “This should be only an abject poverty alleviation mechanism targeted at people who have zero income. It should subsume the child support grant. We should give people money because they don’t have it – and not because they have children.”

Botha suggested the grant be pitched at R250 per month which he said South Africa could afford. “Of South Africa’s 6 million unemployed, about 50% can prove they have no income so it would benefit about 3 million people. It would act as a huge stimulus for agriculture.” According to him, government can target agro-processing sectors which will benefit from this increased expenditure on food. “The huge benefit is a lowering of poverty-related crime, as happened in Brazil.”