Soaring food prices caused by drought are devastating the poor, and the DA has called on the government to do something about it.
As at the end of June 2015, South Africa’s farming debt totalled R125bn, according to the February Agri SA report.
“With many farmers in the summer rainfall areas being unable to plant or facing severe livestock losses, it is likely that liquidity in the sector will deteriorate as a result of the drought,” reads the report.
Consumers are suffering as food prices skyrocket, particularly maize – the staple food of low-income households.
As a result of catastrophic drought, in 2016/2017 summer crops will be 25% lower than they were in 2015/2016. Livestock farmers have also suffered great losses. Last year, an estimated 40,000 cattle were lost to KwaZulu-Natal farmers, according to the Red Meat Producers Organisation.
“Given the drastically reduced plantings of summer crops, it is expected that livestock farmers will remain in a tight position as fodder is likely to be in short supply in the coming winter months,” the organisation reported.
South Africa is Africa’s biggest maize producer, trading around 40% of its maize within the Southern African Development Community. Due to decreased harvests and planting, the quantity of maize our country exports may drop to 630,000 tonnes. This is significantly lower than the 1.5 million tonnes that South Africa has exported for the last 10 seasons.
“The direct influence of reduced maize exports on the balance of payments is estimated to be R4.7bn,” says the report. Accordingly, South Africa may have to import between three million and five million tonnes of maize, at considerable cost.
Last week, the Democratic Alliance (DA) party requested that the government increase social grants at once, subsidise agriculture and food, and assist small businesses, i.e. vegetable and fruit vendors.
DA MP Annette Steyn presented a study on how food prices are impacting the nutrition of the poor, calling on the government to take a number of urgent steps.
Steps Government Need to Take:
• Declare drought as national disaster, just as many Southern African Development Community countries have done, thus activating relief measures
• Concentrated drought relief management supported by real political purpose, instead of fruitless rhetoric
• Discount coupons, food subsidies and grocery parcels for the at-risk poor
• Upgrade school feeding schemes
• Support small business vendors, particularly on pavements
• Long-term plan to safeguard national food security
The cost of a basic food basket that nourishes a family of five has risen by 16.2% during the last year, with social grants increasing by around 6%, said DA MP Karen de Kock.
Consequently, the income of a family that survives on social grants will be absorbed entirely by the cost of food, with nothing left over for other basic expenses.
Anecdotal evidence revealed that nearly a third of pavement fruit vendors went out of business during the previous year, said DA MP Henro Kruger.