Food Price Monitoring Committee; SAHRC on Fourth Economic and Social Rights Report: briefing

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AGRICULTURE AND LAND AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
23 September 2003
FOOD PRICE MONITORING COMMITTEE; SOUTH AFRICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION ON FOURTH ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RIGHTS REPORT: BRIEFING

Chairperson;

Mr N Masithela ANC

Documents handed out;
 

Food Price Monitoring Committee Presentation
SAHRC 4th Economic and Social Rights Report 2000/2002

SUMMARY
The Food Price Monitoring Committee briefed the Committee on factors which had the greatest impact on food inflation. According to preliminary findings food inflation was currently increasing at a reduced rate. The Committee was keen to discuss the affect of imported goods on local industries and food manufacturers were taken to task for imprudent raw material purchases and then passing the cost on to consumers.

Due to capacity limitations the South African Human Rights commission was unable to verify information submitted by various state organs. The Committee was concerned that the commission could not substantiate statements made in the report especially relating to corruption in the Department of Land and Agriculture.

MINUTES
Food Price Monitoring Committee
The Food Price Monitoring Committee had compiled data on 100 food commodities, but for the purposes of this preliminary report focussed on 26 basic food commodities. The committee monitored differences between urban and rural as well as regional diversions in food prices. Food production costs had been investigated to ensure consumer prices were not unduly inflated.

Discussion
Mr A Botha DA asked why the recent increase in maize prices resulted in a dramatic increase in the price of maize meal, with no similar reverse impacts from the subsequent decreases in the maize price.

Prof J Kirsten, The Food Price Monitoring Committee said this was an oft posed question, the incremental impact of labour, transport and other production cost increases limited maize meal price reductions resulting from lower maize prices.
Maize Meal Producers also often bought vast quantities of maize for substantial periods thus their maize costs were not immediately affected by a reduction in maize prices.

Mr Botha said it was unwise to buy a years stock at the worst possible prices. These companies' investors should reconsider their choice of senior management.

Mr S Farrow (DA) asked for clarity on the decrease in poultry retail prices resulting from imports.

Prof Kirsten said one interpretation was that lower feed costs kept production expenses and consumer prices stable. In rural areas food often retailed at 20% to 40 % higher prices than urban areas, this was a result of food transport and supplier costs.Diary products were more affordable in rural areas, possibly because of their close proximity to the source of production.

Mr Farrow asked what quantity of meat was sold abroad during periods of favorable currency exchange rates.

Prof Kirsten said it was difficult for farmers to affect the purchase prices of their goods, however normal supply and demand economics resulted in farmers producing crops that would result in higher profits. This caused a shortage of the less profitable products which in turn increased their retail prices and encouraged greater production. The committee was still in the process of analyzing imports and exports of foodstuffs. Prof Kirsten said the committee wished to investigate the impact of the fuel price on the cost of food commodities.

Mr Masithela (ANC) said food inflation might have a direct bearing on food prices.

Prof Kirsten said the committee sought to understand which factors had the greatest impact on food inflation, he added food inflation was currently increasing at a reduced rate.
Spoornet had insufficient trains to transport the required amount of grain, which resulted in increased use of the more expensive road transport option.

Mr S Abram (ANC) said it was important to ensure a sustainable agricultural industry as many dairy farmers had chosen other farming options as a result of increased competition from imports. He saw no evidence that chickens imported from Brazil resulted in lower consumer prices. Local producers who were creating South African jobs, and services that stimulated the economy were being negatively affected by these cheaper imports.

Prof Kirsten said he suspected the imported chicken helped keep consumer prices low. The dilemma of balancing sustainable local production with cheaper imports and the risk of import dependence was a global problem. The committee's final report could be expected early in December 2003.

South African Human Rights Commission
The commission suffered debilitating capacity challenges, which impacted on their monitoring and investigative functions. The commission had to rely on the accuracy of information submitted to them, as it did not have the capacity to verify information. They have however secured funding for the verification of the next report.
The commission were chided for the late publication of their annual report, they assured the committee they endeavored to publish future reports within the first six months of the year.

There had been a marked increase in the rate of Land Restitution cases, the government had set a target of redistributing fifteen million hectares within fifteen years.

Discussion
Mr Botha and Farrow were very agitated that they did not receive a copy of the relevant chapter of the SAHRC report.

Mr Masithela said all members should have received a copy of the report as this had been presented to parliament earlier in the year.

A committee member asked to what extend the commission was involved in educating rural communities of their rights.

Mr T Thipanyane Head Research and Documentation SAHRC, said the Commission unfortunately tended towards an urban bias as a result of the proportion of urban reports they received, but they had embarked on a national investigation of farming communities. Unfortunately the commission did not receive much information from government on vulnerable groups.
During heritage week the commission usually spent the week with different communities to better appreciate their experiences.

Mr Farrow said it was unacceptable that 40 hectares of land earmarked for settlement was laying idle. He reiterated the late distribution of the report had impaired the full value it offered.

Mr Abram asked what was needed to expedite the sensitive matter of agricultural land redistribution.

Mr E Watkinson, Deputy Director Research and Documentation SAHRC, said the pace of resolving Restitution cases had increased.

Mr Abram asked whether there were adequate support mechanisms in place to assist emerging farmers.

Mr Watkinson said there was still insufficient post settlement support provided to the beneficiaries of land redistribution. There was also a need for increased skills development and financial assistance.

Mr D Dlali (ANC) asked why the commission focussed mainly on Mpumalanga at the expense of other provinces.

Mr Thipanyane said Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Eastern Cape were the only provinces that answered the protocols sent to them, amongst them Mpumalanga gave the most detailed information.
Mr Thipanyane said the commission had the authority to take matters to court or conduct their own hearings if they deemed it necessary, but they preferred to encourage positive improvements without resorting to these powers.
This was the first time a question on corruption was included in the protocols and only one case of corruption was reported by the Department of Land and Agriculture.

Mr Masithela asked for more concrete information on corruption cases in the department. If there were only one instance of corruption he had a problem with the manner, corruption in the department was addressed in the report.

Mr Thipanyane explained that the author of this section was not present at this meeting due to ill health.

Mr Dlali said the SAHRC report was not attributable to any individual but to the entire commission.

Mr Thipanyane expressed the hope of closer interaction between the commission and parliament in future. The provision of citizens socio economic rights required sufficient resources, thus the commission needed to ensure that state resources were properly utilised. Due to inadequate capacity the commission could not verify the implementation of their recommendations.
A conference would be held in November for all relevant parties to present their comments on the preliminary report.

Mr Masithela stated according to the report 80 % of land was owned by whites and 20 % by blacks, he asked why the commission had not made recommendations on redressing his imbalance.

Mr Thipanyane said the commission's monitoring of especially socio economic rights were complicated by a lack of benchmarks to monitor departments' achievements and government institutions did not always provide clear and detailed information. Female Headed Households and vulnerable groups in general did not enjoy the same rights as other South Africans.

Mr Watkinson related that racial patterns of land ownership were difficult to monitor as race was not reflected on the relevant state documentation, since 1994.

Mr Thipanyane said judging from the slow pace of land redistribution and the amount of informal settlements, landlessness was clearly a problem.

Mr Masithela (ANC) emphasised that this was important to him even if it was not to Mr Thipanyane. The commission should have made concrete proposals to address the skewed patterns of land ownership. He also insisted that information should be verified.

Mr Thipanyane felt that this was a very serious matter and the SAHRC did not manufacture this information. He asked parliament to assist the commission in getting adequate information from the various departments.

Mr Farrow said the commission should interact closely with the committee as they could assist in following up the commission's recommendations.

Mr Masithela said the committee would now interact with the department and submit a report to parliament. He informed the seven committee members, from various political parties who did not receive copies of the report, that the matter would be brought up with the speaker.

Mr Masithela informed the committee that the Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs would present a short briefing on the recent events at the World Trade Organisation in Mexico later that day.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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