Food Security Policy and Zero Hunger Programme: progress report by Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

07 February 2012
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) gave a briefing on the country’s Food Security Policy (the Policy) and the progress of the Zero Hunger Programme. The Policy was premised on the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, and food security was defined as the right to have access to and control over the physical, social and economic means to meeting dietary food  intake requirements to promote a healthy life. It assessed that R260 should be spent by an individual, per month, to provide 70% of the basic nutritional requirements, and regarded an intake of 11 095 kilojoules as adequate, and those consuming less than 7 502 kilojoules as dietary-deficient. Currently, over 11.5 million individuals were vulnerable to food insecurity, the majority of whom lived in rural areas. Climate change, unemployment and lack of a long term agricultural production plan remained serious challenges compromising the stability of food supply. Comparative food prices tended to be on average nearly R17 more in rural than urban areas. South Africa needed a production strategy to outline the state support of production to farmers, and to uplift domestic production of certain foods. The Policy was to be overseen by both national and provincial government, with participation from other stakeholders. Legislation would be required to regulate coordination of food security. Currently, hospitals, schools and universities were being encouraged to buy produce from small-scale farmers.

The Zero Hunger Programme aimed to improve food production capacity of households and poorly-resourced farmers and to improve the nutritional security of citizens. This programme had been successfully run in Brazil and was specifically intended to target 20 highly-deprived municipalities in Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal, Limpopo and the North West. Senior managers would monitor the districts and R70 million was allocated for the mobilisation, institutional system and implementation.

Members urged the Department to pay particular attention to the issuing and monitoring of tractor use, and ensure that these generated income and programmes for tractors were sustainable, asked about the use of vacant land of the Department of Correctional Services, the relationship with the Department of Social Development, and questioned the capacity of the Department, pointing out that it was still using outside service providers, and the budgets. The Department agreed that the Zero Hunger Programme budget was currently low, but indicated that it was at least a start and that in time these should prove sustainable. Members also wanted to hear more on the import and export of maize, how the Department was assisting small-scale farmers to find markets, and urged that adequate infrastructure must be put in place to implement, and, more importantly, monitor the policies. Members asked about the lessons learned from other countries, asked if AgriSA was involved in this policy, whether research was conducted into the crops that would grow best in particular regions, and whether it was envisaged that the entry of more competitors into the markets would lower prices. Although some Members raised questions about the allegations of nepotism in the Department, and performance challenges, the Chairperson noted that these questions would not be addressed in this session.

Meeting report

Food Security Policy and Zero Hunger Progress Report: Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry briefing
Mr Langa Zita, Director General, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, took the Committee through the Food Security Policy and the Report on the Zero Hunger Programme.
He noted that the Food Security Policy (the Policy) for South Africa was premised upon sections 27(1)(b) and 28(1)(b) of the Constitution. The policy defined food security as the right to have access to and control over the physical, social and economic means to provide sufficient, safe and nutritious food at all times, such as would meet dietary food intake requirements for a healthy life by all South Africans. The policy set a food poverty line, as an indicator of food security, of R260 per individual for expenditure on food each month, which was calculated to cover 70% of the basic nutritious basket of food. The Food Security Policy (the Policy) recommended an adult individual daily energy consumption of 11 095 kilojoules. An individual consuming less than 7502 kilojoules per day was regarded as food insecure. The Policy’s goal was to improve adequate and stable access to safe and nutritious food at both national and household level.

Mr Zita pointed out that food insecurity was directly linked to poverty, and poverty was directly linked to income generation and ownership of capital assets. South Africa was still a country showing amongst the highest degrees of socio-economic inequalities in the world, and this exacerbated poverty levels, hunger, and morbidity in certain racial groups. Currently, over 11.5 million individuals were vulnerable to food insecurity, the majority of whom lived in rural areas.

Mr Zita also highlighted that, on average, consumers in rural areas had to pay R16.74 more than consumers in urban areas, to buy the same basket of selected products, between January 2008 and October 2010. This translated to high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition in rural areas that already had high levels of poverty. Climate change remained another serious challenge to food security. Temperatures were expected to increase more in the interior of the country, but less in the coastal areas. These conditions were predicted to increase the intensity of the rainfall, but not the overall total rainfall towards the South West of the country. Economic growth and equity were also challenges compromising the stability of food supply, with the 2009 recession posing particular problems. He gave some figures on income equality, indicating that the highest earners of 10% of the population accounted for 50% household income, whilst 40% of the population contributed only 7% of household income in the country, and the poorest 20% accounted for less than 1.5% of household income, with their income mainly derived from lowly paid work or social grants. South Africa had no production strategy that would outline the state’s support of production to farmers, and this was needed to uplift the domestic production of certain commodities.

Mr Zita noted that an institutional framework involving both national and provincial government would oversee the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Policy. National and provincial Food Security Forums would provide the platform for different stakeholders who were engaged in food security and nutrition issues in South Africa to participate in shaping the Government’s plan to eradicate hunger in the country. There was a need for legislation to regulate the co-ordination of food security in South Africa, as prescribed by the policy. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (the Department) was also supporting small scale farmers by ensuring that hospitals, schools and universities bought produce from small-scale farmers.

The Zero Hunger Programme aimed to improve food production capacity of households and poorly-resourced farmers and to improve the nutritional security of citizens. Mr Zita noted that the Programme was adopted from Brazil, and was not unique to South Africa. Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal, Limpopo and the North West all had districts with high levels of hunger. The Zero Hunger Programme was being designed to target 20 of these highly-deprived municipalities. The Department had assigned senior managers to monitor each of these districts.  A budget of R70 million would be allocated for the mobilisation, setting up of institutional systems and the implementation of tangible projects.

The Chairperson asked for a list of each district with managers assigned to them.

Mr L Gaehler (UDM) suggested that a stakeholder committee must be established to monitor the issue of tractors.

Ms A Steyn (DA) urged the Department to empower the communities so that they could use the tractors to generate income, so as to sustain the tractor programme.

Ms M Pilusa- Mosoane (ANC) welcomed and thanked the Department for this programme, which she saw as a positive step, and hoped that good implementation would occur. She urged the Department to monitor the issue of tractors as at times there was confusion between the municipalities and the communities as to ownership and responsibility for those tractors.

Mr L Zita agreed that the issue of tractors was a problem but the main challenge facing the country was that over 5 million hectares of land was not used in areas with the highest levels of poverty. This challenge had necessitated the tractor programme. He said the Department was looking again at the roll out of tractors.

Mr Gaehler asked whether the Department was utilising vacant land from the Department of Correctional Services. The Department’s relationship with the Department of Social Development was also queried.

Mr Zita confirmed that the Department of Agriculture was working with the Department of Correctional Services although most of the time the latter used its own inmates to work on its land. The Department also had good relations with Department of Social Development, as their goals converged, in particular in relation to social security and food security.

Mr S Abram (ANC) asked if the Department had adequate human resources capacity to carry on such tasks, and asked for more elaboration also on the Department’s budget. He further posed questions asking for more details about the pending Food Security Bill, the issuing of a tender for part of the programme and the budget provided to Brazil’s Agricultural Ministry. Mr Abram bemoaned the fact that service providers were contracted, instead of capacitating the Department more.

Mr Zita responded that Zero Hunger was a vision of the Ministry of Agriculture and was supported fully by the political heads. The Department would also review the work and support system of Extension Officers. The capacity of the Department would also be augmented by recruiting interns. He said that the service providers were crucial because some of the work required specialist skills, including those in working with people, and these skills were not found in-house.

Mr Abram also suggested that surplus of maize must be used carefully in order to prepare for poor weather patterns.

Mr Zita confirmed that the Ministry was looking at markets to deal with surplus commodities and that Mr Abrams’ suggestions would be carefully considered, and in future appropriate responses would be made.

Ms Steyn queried the current state of maize import and export levels.

Mr Zita noted that a separate and fuller presentation would be needed to look at the importing of food.

Ms Steyn noted that although she was new to the Committee she was concerned with the implementation, as she had the impression that the realities on the ground were not ready for such a policy. She said that adequate infrastructure must be put in place before implementing these policies.

Ms Steyn asked for the meaning of the acronym “IFAD”.

Mr Zita confirmed that IFAD stood for the International Fund for Agricultural Development, a multi-lateral institute which assisted states with loans. It had been formed after World War II to help rebuild the agricultural sector. The technical competence of IFAD was crucial to building the agricultural sector. IFAD was in particular looking at Limpopo, KwaZulu Natal and Eastern Cape.

Ms Steyn asked for details of the Department’s financial plan for land reform.

Mr P van Dalen(DA) asked what lessons the Department had learnt from Zimbabwe, Cuba and Venezuela, pointing out that currently South Africa was importing more than it was producing. He also mentioned the shrinkage of jobs in the agricultural sector.

The Chairperson asked the Department if it had also looked at Malawi’s successful agricultural programme.

Mr Zita said that Malawi was one example of a true agrarian revolution, was a good success story for the region, and the Department had taken stock of this country’s programmes. He noted that this country would not follow the Zimbabwean route.

Mr van Dalen asked if Agri-South Africa (AgriSA) was included and involved in this policy implementation. He asked if anyone was putting measures in place to ensure that small scale farmers produced quality food.

Mr Zita confirmed that AgriSA was interested and was involved in the programme. In relation to small-scale farmers, he noted that the Department would do everything within its powers to assist small scale farmers to catch up with established commercial farmers.

Ms Pilusa-Mosoane commented that the budget for the Zero Hunger Programme was low. She said it was noble that the programme was borrowed from Brazil, but pointed out that South Africa often experienced particular problems with monitoring and implementation of policies, which hindered their effectiveness.

Mr Zita told Members that the Zero Hunger Programme would create jobs in the sector with minimum investment. However, he agreed that the budget was not sufficient, and appealed to the Committee for its assistance in supporting a larger budget allocation, during the forthcoming budget debates. He noted, in regard to the monitoring and implementation comment, that the Department was also learning from the management ethos practiced by South African Revenue Services and this would improve in its efficiency.

Mr Zita noted that the Brazil programmes had been universally accepted and their successes were shown by the fact that the former Brazilian Agricultural Minister was elected as Secretary General of the Food Agricultural Organisation, based on his success in running that programme in Brazil.

The Chairperson asked if research had been conducted to find out which crops grew best in particular regions.

Mr Ramagwai Sebola, Agronomist, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said that the Department had already collected soil samples from the whole country, and would be in a position to compile an agro-ecological approach for the Zero Hunger Programme.

The Chairperson cited cases where farmers had faced huge losses after exporting their commodities and wanted to know what the Department was doing to assist small scale farmers to find markets.
Mr Zita noted that the Department would encourage farmers to do comparative advantage studies on their commodities and to be resourceful in their activities. In South Africa there was sufficient demand for staple food, and anything that was beyond that demand could be exported.

Mr Abram said that there had been complaints of nepotism in the Department. He asked why so many Deputy Director Generals were holding acting posts. He also noted that the Department was performing poorly when compared to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, and had his doubts as to whether anything would be achieved by these programmes, as the Department was poorly run. He also asked about the negative press reports, and mentioned that he was not in favour of anything that would muzzle the press. He felt that the Department displayed a poor attitude when responding to questions. He also requested that the delegation from the Department be introduced.

The Chairperson reminded Members to raise relevant points, and said that the main thrust of today’s debate was on food security. Any questions about the performance of the Department would be dealt with when it gave another presentation on its performance.

Mr Zita responded briefly that the Department was working well with the human capacity it had. He said that there was no nepotism involved in the employment of Rowena Joemat, who was employed before the current Minister of Agriculture took her post. She was considered to be a diligent and committed civil servant.

Mr Gaehler felt that the programme was very good in theory, but reiterated concerns expressed by other members that the challenge would lie in implementation. He asked whether targeted research was done on the agro-ecological impact of the programme.

Mr van Dalen wanted to confirm whether the Department envisaged helping 350 000 farmers, and, if so, asked what would be the cost and exact impact of such an initiative.

Ms Steyn wondered whether allowing more competitors into the markets would necessarily result in the lowering of prices, and if the link between poverty and food insecurity would be addressed

Mr L Zita noted that the programme would benefit many thousands of people and would create a productive activation of over 3 million hectares of land. He noted that, as a general economic rule, more competition in any economic sector meant that prices would go down. Addressing challenges in the agrarian sector would be critical to achievement of other socio-economic challenges. In answer to Mr van Dalen, he noted that it was possible for the programme to remain economically sustainable, although it would need to incur some debt, since the long term effect of this would result in a flourishing and productive agricultural sector.

The meeting was adjourned.


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