The Portfolio Committee On Agriculture, Forestry And Fisheries hosted a two-day joint workshop on Food Security and Safety with the Portfolio Committees of Health and Social Development and the Select Committee on Land and Mineral Resources. The first day of the workshop focussed on food security. After a presentation by the coordinator of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security, Prof Sheryl Hendriks, presentations were received from the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Department of Social Development.
Prof Hendricks provided an overview of the current food security context in South Africa, spoke about the obligations and duties of the state, the policies and programmes currently in place, and made some tentative suggestions on the way forward. She explained that food security had four dimensions: availability (food is obtainable), accessibility (people have the means to buy and/or grow food for themselves), utilisation (the way the body uses food) and stability (resilient livelihoods and food production). Food insecurity was driven by factors at a national level (such as crises like the energy crisis which increases transport and cooking costs, poor economic growth) and at household level (for example poverty and unemployment, poor health which were all consequences and drivers of food insecurity). In South Africa, poor co-ordination and duplication of effort are the main reasons that the government's attempts to address food insecurity are being less successful than they should be, given the level of investment. She stressed that food poor nutrition was not a problem of rich and poor, or urban and rural. Rates of overweight individuals had increased massively since 2005. She noted the success of the social grant system on household nutrition, but noted that it did not address the underlying, systemic food security issues. The most sustainable way of addressing the accessibility dimension of food security was for people to have decent work. She discussed a study of some of the poorest communities in the country focussing on their dietary habits. The reliance on maize, seasonal differences, a general lack of dietary diversity and widespread malnutrition were some of the notable findings of the study.
Members were concerned about the lack of coordination amongst departments. They asked about patterns of hunger and malnutrition relative to the urban/rural continuum, land ownership, reliance on social grants, the role of education and the means of inter-generational knowledge transfer on good dietary habits.
The Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation reported on nutrition interventions for children under the age of five and on the progress made on the National Food and Nutrition Security Plan. The results of a study that compared the quality of nutrition available in several districts across four provinces, and with five SADC countries, were reported. Factors found to contribute to effective food security interventions were discussed. These included consolidated structures, a focus on food quality and dietary diversity, conditional cash transfers and the existence of common indicators for tracking the effectiveness of interventions. Its recommendations included the regulation of marketing unhealthy foods to children and the taxing of sugar-rich foods.
Committee members asked for detail about the methodology of the study, noted an apparent lack of urgency and concreteness in the Department's interventions, enquired about the involvement of local government, suggested tighter control of school feeding schemes to ensure they provided healthy food, and called for a single department to take ultimate responsibility for food security interventions.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries looked at food access by province. Limpopo was the best performing province, with only 11.4% people having inadequate access to food, and North West was the worst, at 43.7%. The national average was 26.2%. The favourable situation in Limpopo was attributed to the fact that many people produced food for themselves. The reasons for food insecurity in the country were listed, including high prices, climate change and poor infrastructure. The results of the recent baseline assessment exercise conducted in Limpopo were reported in some detail. This assessment had looked at a wide range of demographic and economic indicators, including dietary diversity and childhood stunting. Also discussed was the ongoing nationwide drought and its probable effect on the harvest of staple foods, especially white and yellow maize. Drought response plans of the relevant departments were described.
Committee members stressed the seriousness of the drought and its potential to produce serious social unrest, questioned some maize harvest figures, asked about mechanisation policies for communal land, the Department's policy on genetically modified organisms, and expressed disappointment at the lack of detail in the Department's plans.
The Department of Social Development discussed its efforts to break the cycle of poverty, particularly among the very poor. The value of social grants was stressed, but it was also noted that the aim was ultimately to enable people to help themselves. Information was given about procurement policies, the number of beneficiaries of its feeding schemes, funding and the work opportunities this created.
Committee members were divided on the value of the food-producing cooperatives that the Department was creating, expressed surprise at the scale of its feeding scheme, asked about the status of agri-parks and criticised the lack of economic modelling. It was decided that a joint presentation from all the departments present would be delivered the following day before beginning the scheduled programme.
The Chairperson explained that the purpose of the workshop was for the portfolio committees to engage with experts on food security and safety, to examine what structures were in place to ensure that the country's food supply was sufficient and nutritious, and to come up with an action plan to address national problems of food security and safety. She noted with concern the apparent absence of representatives from municipalities, and hoped that some would be present the next day.
DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security
Prof Sheryl Hendriks (Co-ordinator: DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security) provided an overview of the current food security context in South Africa, spoke about the obligations and duties of the state, the policies and programmes currently in place, and made some tentative suggestions on the way forward.
Prof Hendriks explained that the right to sufficient food and water was enshrined in the Constitution, and noted that children were afforded the special right to sufficient nutrition. She explained that that the concept of food security had first become topical during the global food crisis in 1974. By definition, food security meant that “all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” It had four dimensions: availability (food is obtainable), accessibility (people have the means to buy and/or grow food for themselves), utilisation (the way the body uses food) and stability (resilient livelihoods and food production). She said that although the country was facing a crisis at the moment, there were also systemic problems that needed to be addressed. She discussed various relevant concepts, such as malnutrition, wasting, stunting and obesity, and the relationships among them. She described a continuum of food security conditions, from starvation to complete food security. Food insecurity was driven by factors at a national level (such as crises like the energy crisis which increase transport and cooking costs, poor economic growth) and at household level (for example, poverty and unemployment, poor health which were all consequences and drivers of food insecurity). In South Africa, poor co-ordination and duplication of effort are the main reasons that the government's attempts to address food insecurity are being less successful than they should be, given the level of investment. There were over sixty national programmes aimed at improving food security. International precedents indicated that fewer, bigger, strategically targeted support programmes were more efficient.
Prof Hendriks gave some statistics of countrywide food insecurity: 37% of households struggled to meet their monthly food expenses. 6% of households experienced severely inadequate access to food, and 13% experienced hunger. 26% of children had stunted growth and 14% were overweight. She stressed that these groups could overlap; it was not a problem of rich and poor, or urban and rural. Rates of overweight individuals had increased massively since 2005. She noted the success of the social grant system on household nutrition, but that it did not address the underlying, systemic food security issues. The most sustainable way of addressing the accessibility dimension of food security was for people to have decent work. She discussed a study of some of the poorest communities in the country focussing on their dietary habits. The reliance on maize, seasonal differences, a general lack of dietary diversity and widespread malnutrition and were some of the notable findings of the study. Food insecurity had a serious knock-on effect on the country's productivity. She reported on the findings of eleven workshops held around the country with ordinary people, who had many ideas about what they and government could be doing to improve food security. Different responses were needed at national and household levels. At household levels, the knowledge of older members of communities in dealing with scarcity should be tapped, and government needed a prioritised, coordinated, proactive, scalable intervention under constant monitoring and evaluation.
Mr A Shaik-Emam (NFP) was concerned about the lack of emphasis given in the presentation to the quality of food products in South Africa. The country seemed to be a dumping ground for poor quality products.
The Chairperson explained that food safety issues would be dealt with the following day.
Ms A Steyn (DA) asked if a list and budget information of the national food programmes mentioned by Prof Hendriks could be made available.
Prof Hendriks said that a list of programmes could be made available, but budget information was not always easy to get.
Ms Steyn asked what percentage of the population was facing starvation, nationally and per municipality.
Prof Hendriks replied that the only really reliable national indicator was the one on child wasting, that is, extreme low weight. It was difficult to get an accurate picture on hunger levels through the National Household Survey because hunger was subjective.
Ms Steyn was concerned that provincial breakdowns showed that lack of food seemed to be correlated with rural areas. This did not seem to make sense. People engaged in agriculture should at least have food for themselves.
Prof Hendriks pointed out that rural food insecurity was relatively visible but very little was known about urban food insecurity, which was a very different problem. Rural households had fewer options and they tended to resort to raw foods in emergencies, whereas urban households turn to street food or mass-produced fast food, which was much less healthy.
Dr P Maesela (ANC) stressed that action was required. All the good policies of government would come to nothing if they were not practical. He pointed out that the first requirement for producing food was land. He observed that the country trained large numbers of doctors to cure people when they became sick, but not enough nutritionists to prevent them from becoming sick in the first place.
Mr C Maxegwana (ANC) said that the first two dimensions of food security, availability and accessibility, were bound up with the economic system in South Africa. The poor needed to be educated, so that they knew the best food to grow and consume.
Prof Hendriks agreed on the importance of education. The government might also consider regulating advertising of food products to ensure that consumers were well informed.
Mr Maxegwana cautioned that the system of social grants should not be relied on indefinitely. He suggested a policy where social grant recipients were weaned off their grants at some stage.
The Chairperson agreed. People needed to take the initiative and augment the child security grants they were receiving.
Mr Brenton van Vrede (acting Deputy Director-General: Comprehensive Social Security, Department of Social Development) said that it was not the Department's policy to “off-ramp” child grant beneficiaries. The child grants were having an observable positive social impact, and was even stimulating local industries by creating consumers of basic goods. Inequality had actually increased over the last twenty years, and social grants were an important means of offsetting this.
Ms L Dunjwa (ANC) said that malnourishment started with malnourished mothers. She asked if Prof Hendriks would support the revitalisation of the teaching of home economics, also known as domestic science, in high schools.
Prof Hendriks agreed that mothers had a special position. Community networks of knowledge and support were breaking down in some places, and they needed to be revitalised. Home economics could certainly help improve habits around food.
Mr Z Mandela (ANC) asked why South Africa had such high levels of childhood stunting, even relative to other Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries with much smaller budgets. What were we doing wrong? He asked if the impact of migration into South Africa on food security had been studied.
Ms C Labuschagne (DA) asked what were the most effective mechanisms for ensuring access to food at a global level. Which of these were used in South Africa, and which should we be implementing? Which countries had proactive legislation that we could learn from?
Prof Hendriks replied that most programmes in South Africa were well designed and met international standards. The problem was at the level of implementation. Brazil was one country with an excellent programme, especially with regard to information gathering.
Ms Labuschagne asked which existing government programmes were succeeding.
A member asked whether the country had sufficient dieticians, especially in poorer areas.
Prof Hendriks suggested that it was really nutritionists that were needed, rather than dieticians, whose focus was at the therapeutic stage.
Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation briefing
Mr Thulani Masilela (Outcome Facilitator: Health, Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation) reported on nutrition interventions for children under the age of five and gave a progress update on the National Food and Nutrition Security (NFNS) Plan. Worldwide, 45% of deaths of children under five were due to malnutrition, and the national figure was 11%. He agreed that there was a lack of a coordinated government response to the problem. He reported on the results of a study that compared the quality of nutrition in several districts across four provinces, and compared it with five SADC countries. He discussed the factors which had been found to contribute to effective food security interventions. These included consolidated structures, a focus on food quality and dietary diversity, conditional cash transfers and the existence of common indicators for tracking the effectiveness of interventions. He discussed some of the laws, policies and programmes relevant to food security. He discussed the country's mixed success according to 18 United Nations (UN) indicators for food security interventions. He discussed the recommendations of the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME), which included the regulation of marketing of unhealthy foods to children and the taxing of sugar-rich foods. He described the seven priorities of the National Food and Nutrition Security Plan, and the key interventions planned to address these priorities.
Dr Maesela was concerned about the lack of a consistent, coordinated plan and the abstractness and apparent lack of urgency of the discussion. There did not seem to be effective cooperation between departments.
Mr Masilela accepted the criticism.
Ms Steyn asked how the DPME had measured the quality of available nutrition in its study. How was DPME planning to measure the success of its planned interventions?
Mr Masilela said that they used indicators from the district health system.
Ms Steyn was worried about budget cuts in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) that had resulted from underspending in previous years. There was a serious problem if a department faced with a crisis was still underspending. She also worried that the present countrywide drought was not being addressed.
Mr Masilela conceded that underspending had been a problem. One of the focus areas of the plan was to ensure a more even distribution of resources. National Treasury had done a study which had revealed a deficit of R2bn for nutrition, which could offset underspending in other areas.
Ms G Oliphant (Deputy Chairperson of Committee Chairpersons, Northern Cape Legislature) asked why the study had only looked at four provinces. Were the results able to be generalised to the country as a whole?
Mr Masilela explained that the study had used a case-study methodology. The findings could be generalised, but only to districts sharing characteristics with the ones in the study. This sort of study was much cheaper and quicker.
Ms Labuschagne was concerned about the proliferation of councils and commissions to manage and implement the interventions. Were they all really necessary?
Mr Masilela replied that these structures had been put in place according to international precedents of successful food security interventions.
Ms Labuschagne asked what the time-frame for the planned interventions was.
The Chairperson said that it was imperative that local government be involved in realising the plans of the departments.
Mr Masilela said that this was according to their plans.
The Chairperson asked what was being done to ensure that budgets were efficiently spent. The government had to use its own capacity. It could not afford to go to tender for every piece of work that had to be done.
Mr Masilela agreed that this was a concern. Procurement processes needed to be reviewed.
Ms Z Jongbloed (DA) asked if the department had factored the abuse of social grants drawn on behalf of children into its planning. Was there a plan to prevent this?
Mr van Vrede said that the research showed that this situation was not actually that common. There was legislation protecting children if it did happen, though.
Mr Masilela said that studies showed that social grants were being effective, for instance, allowing young girls to return to school.
Mr O Sefako (ANC) said that the Department of Water and Sanitation should have been part of the workshop. He asked if the DPME had looked at redirecting water supplies to emerging farmers. The present infrastructure benefited historically advantaged farmers by default.
Ms T Tongwane (ANC) said that there was a danger of informal settlements in rural areas spreading into agricultural land.
Mr Bonga Msomi (Food Security and Agrarian Reform, DAFF) described some of the country's irrigation schemes, and new legislation at an early stage of development to protect agricultural land.
Ms Dunjwa said that the banning of unhealthy foods in school tuck shops should be considered. She asked whether there was a uniform nutrition plan for school feeding schemes.
Mr Masilela agreed with this suggestion. It would be very difficult to monitor this, however.
Ms Steyn said there needed to be one budget for the interventions, and one department taking ultimate responsibility. Which department was it going to be?
Mr Masilela agreed on the need for a single budget.
[Session Session chaired by Ms Dunjwa]
Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) briefing
Mr Bonga Msomi (Food Security and Agrarian Reform, DAFF) gave a global, regional and national overview of food insecurity. He looked at food access by province. Limpopo was the best performing province, with only 11.4% of people having inadequate access to food, and North West was the worst, at 43.7%. The national average was 26.2%. He attributed the favourable situation in Limpopo to the fact that many people produced food for themselves. He listed the reasons for food insecurity in the country, including high prices, climate change and poor infrastructure. He discussed some of the government's existing interventions, with special attention to the National Food and Nutrition Security policy and its institutional arrangements, including the particular responsibilities of the different departments and governmental structures. He reported the results of the recent baseline assessment exercise conducted in Limpopo in some detail. This assessment had looked at a wide range of demographic and economic indicators, including dietary diversity and childhood stunting. He discussed the ongoing nationwide drought and its probable effect on the harvest of staple foods, especially white and yellow maize. He noted dam storage levels, and gave details of the drought response plan of the various relevant departments (DAFF, DRDLR, Department of Social Development). He gave an estimate of projected food price inflation due to the drought, noting different effects on rural and urban areas.
Ms Steyn said that there was nothing new in the presentation that was not already in the New Strategy of August 2014. A real food crisis in the country would dwarf the recent university fees crisis.
Ms Steyn questioned the projected maize harvest. She did not think the stocks were adequate, and expected that at least 4-5 million tons would have to be imported.
Ms Steyn asked if the dam storage level data included small dams, or just the major ones.
Mr R Cebekhulu (IFP) asked if DAFF still offered the use of tractors to farmers on communal land. It seemed that this very helpful intervention had fallen away.
Mr Mooketsa Ramasodi (Deputy Director-General: Agricultural Production, Health & Food Safety, DAFF) said that the department was working to ensure there was a harmonised mechanisation policy across the country.
A departmental official explained that the policy in Kwazulu-Natal had changed to require farmers to make a contribution for the use of tractors.
Dr Maesela was disappointed at the lack of any reference to climate change responses in the presentation.
Mr Ramasodi appreciated that the drought required urgent attention.
Dr Maesela asked about the Department's position on genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). How much of our food was genetically modified without the consumer knowing?
Mr Ramasodi explained that GMOs were part of our food supply according to legislative provisions: 80% of maize, and 90% of soya were GMO. There were checks and balances in place to address safety concerns.
Ms Semenya was disappointed that the presentation did not seem to give a clear indication of the department's intentions for achieving food security. It seemed like a business-as-usual report on activities. It had not really addressed the expectations of the workshop. She had hoped to hear about how successful drought intervention measures had been.
The Chairperson felt similarly that the report did not empower the committees represented.
Mr Ramasodi apologised for the standard of the presentation. He suggested that a dedicated engagement to address drought response would be necessary.
Dr W James (DA) said that childhood stunting was both a moral and a political issue. On the one hand, children were suffering and their futures were being compromised. Had DAFF's findings been shared with other departments? The political issue was that an inter-ministerial arrangement was needed to address it.
Department of Social Development briefing
Mr Peter Netshipale (Deputy Director-General: Community Development, DSD) began with some background to the National Policy on Food and Nutrition Security. He explained that DSD's intervention would focus on breaking the cycle of poverty, particularly among the very poor. DSD had looked at the distribution of poverty across the country. He stressed the value of social grants, and said that their aim was ultimately to enable people to help themselves. He discussed the ways in which the DSD distributed food to people in need, including cooked meals and food parcels. Food was being distributed through more than 160 community centres across the country. He provided information about procurement policies, the number of beneficiaries, funding and the work opportunities created. He concluded with a summary of the challenges faced, and DSD's recommendations.
Department of Rural Development and Land Reform presentation
The presentation was abandoned as the document circulated to Members did not match the document being presented. In addition, Members did not think that it really addressed the expectations of the workshop.
Mr Maxegwana thanked DSD for the presentation, which clearly addressed the expectations of the workshop. The Department was clearly doing something to achieve food security. He commended the creation of food-producing cooperatives.
Dr Maesela did not realise that such a large-scale “soup kitchen” operation was taking place. He also doubted the effectiveness of cooperatives in comparison with ordinary farms.
Mr Sefako asked if information about already-established agri-parks was available.
Ms Steyn was frustrated. There was a lack of consistency amongst the presentations, which indicated a lack of overall coherent strategy. Some of them were using outdated statistics.
Mr Cebekhulu asked if DSD had a plan aimed at waste pickers. They were driven by necessity of course, but they were exposed to health risks.
Ms Semenya appreciated the relevance of the DSD presentation. She welcomed the creation of cooperatives. She asked if smallholders had access to agri-parks. What was being done to give substance to the Minister's commitment to support them? One did not see the support on the ground.
Mr T Walters (DA) said that a clear idea of what would drive food prices down was missing. There was no economic modelling. What would the impact of agri-parks be? He noted that the drought would have a long-term negative effect on indebted farmers. He called for a single joint presentation from all the departments involved in food security.
The Chairperson saw the value in this, and suggested that such a presentation be given the next day before the scheduled programme began, instead of having responses to the questions immediately.
The meeting was adjourned.
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