SA and its standing on the global food security ladder

  • 29 October 2021
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During 2020, South Africa was ranked in the 69th position and before that, in 2019, in the 44th position.

In this opinion piece, Wandile Sihlobo, Chief Economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz), shares his views on the topic.

At face value, this decline may be seen as worrying. However, when one looks at the Index scoring's technical position, it becomes clear that South Africa is not doing as badly as the headline ranking suggests. In this case, South Africa's scoring remained unchanged from 2020, following a point drop in 2020 from 2019.

The score came in at 57,8 in 2021, which is the same level as 2020, and down by 1,4 from 2019 in the Global Food Security Index. Relative to 2019, other countries have improved notably, resulting in the seemingly alarming deterioration in South Africa's ranking to the 70th position.

More about the Global Food Security Index

The index comprises of four sub-indexes, namely:

  • food affordability,
  • food availability,
  • food quality and safety, and
  • ·natural resources and resilience.

The affordability and availability have a higher weighting of a combined two thirds (each 32,4%). The affordability sub-index includes a change in average food costs, proportion of a population in poverty and agricultural import tariffs. Meanwhile, the availability sub-index consists of the sufficiency of supply, agricultural infrastructure, volatility in agricultural production, political and social barriers to food, and food loss.

In 2021, South Africa experienced a mild deterioration in the food affordability and availability sub-indexes of 0,7 and 0,1 points, respectively. Meanwhile, the rest of the other sub-indexes improved marginally. In the case of affordability, the major challenge was an overall increase in food prices.

In terms of availability, the deterioration of this sub-index is inconsistent with the realities in South Africa. The 2020/21 production season was the second largest in history in terms of grains and oilseeds. In horticulture, the citrus industry had a record harvest, while other fruits and vegetables experienced a general improvement in output compared with the previous season. In such an environment of abundant output, one wouldn't expect a decline in the "availability" sub-index.

Moreover, there is also no major change in South Africa's agricultural infrastructure, political and social barriers to food, and food loss over the past nine months compared to 2020. The only notable glitch in supply chains was during the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng unrests and even then, it was short-lived and supply chains adjusted in a matter of days.

The food quality and safety sub-index comprise of nutritional standards, dietary diversity, protein quality and food safety. These are challenging to measure in each country, which again raises concerns about the global ranking of such aspects. South Africa has the products standards regulations that guides food producers and ensures their products meet the required quality.

The natural resources and resilience sub-index focuses on drought, floods, agriculture water risk, forest change, and land degradation, amongst other aspects. These are generally easily observable and there are often public records of them, particularly droughts and floods. South Africa's ranking in this sub-index improved, as there was a generally good agriculture season.

A global phenomenon

The rise in food prices is a global phenomenon and not unique to South Africa.

The dryness in South America, which negatively affected the crops in the 2020/21 production season, combined with growing demand for oilseeds and grains in China and higher shipping costs, are some of the factors that have underpinned global food prices. This, in turn, supported grain prices in South Africa; hence the food price inflation was somewhat elevated in the first eight months of this year. This was a global issue rather than domestic supply constraints.

SA’s standing

South Africa will need to continue improving food security through expansion in agricultural production and job creation in various sectors of the economy. At a technical level, the ideas of expanding agriculture and agro-processing capacity to boost growth and job creation were well established as far back as in the National Development Plan in 2012. They were again highlighted in the 2019 National Treasury paper.

These include expanding agricultural activity in the former homelands and government land, enhancing government-commodity organisations partnerships in extension services, investment in the network industries (water, electricity and road infrastructure), port infrastructure, and state laboratories.

While some interventions are more regulation-focused, and therefore do not require significant capital spending by the government, they still need institutional capacity building. Such regulatory interventions include modernising regulations such as the Fertilizers, Farm Feeds, Seeds and Remedies Act 36 of 1947, which many role players in agriculture continue to express dissatisfaction with.

In terms of regional focus, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, which are amongst the most food-insecure provinces, also have vast tracts of underutilised land. These provinces should be a priority in agricultural development plans. With a commercial focus where conditions permit, agriculture improvement would help job creation and, ultimately, household food security.