Heifer International South Africa (Heifer) partners with rural communities in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal to end hunger and poverty in South Africa and care for the Earth. 1.5 million families in South Africa grow food and raise animals at subsistence level or, more often, below (UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, 2011).
Heifer works with families to turn their activities into successful smallholder agricultural businesses, improving food security by growing some of their own food and earning income to support food and non-food expenditure. With 12 million South Africans food insecure, it is vital that South Africa find ways of addressing poverty that also build secure access to healthy foods and long-term income generation.
In light of this, Heifer is pleased to note in Minister Pravin Gordhan’s 2012 budget speech a renewed focus on supporting agriculture. In particular, we welcome the R1.9 billion for Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to improve agricultural support services, the R150 million for agricultural colleges and the commitment to invest in the Agricultural Research Council work around vaccines and improving extension services and hope to see this investment used not only to support existing large-scale commercial farmers but also to improve productivity and animal health for small, emerging farmers.
At the same time, Heifer is concerned that there is not more focus on prioritising support to rural families in other areas. While social grants provide a safety net for many of the food insecure and poor families in rural areas, they are not a long-term solution. They are also unable to respond to volatile food and fuel prices. This year’s budget includes increased fuel and RAF levies. These, like all fuel price increases, impact on food prices generally but they have a double impact on rural families. These families live far from commercial centres. Food, which increasingly costs more in commercial centres, is even more expensive, both in time and money, for rural families who must travel long distances to buy food. The cost of transport increases each time fuel costs rise and is further raised by deteriorating rural transport infrastructure.
This same weak rural infrastructure limits the ability of small farmers to sell their produce because the costs of transport are too high. This is exacerbated by the lack of investment in local market infrastructure, so that farmers must travel long distances to reach markets. Food security requires market access. Subsistence production reduces household food costs but some trading is inevitably necessary to satisfy all food and non-food needs. The government has pledged to invest in infrastructure, create jobs and support agriculture but there is little evidence that this infrastructure development will help to integrate stallholder farmers into the market system. The government needs to take simple actions, such as ensuring that rail upgrades include the upgrading of rural stations, building and regenerating rural and small town marketplaces and fixing degraded roads that make it difficult for rural families to access markets and food. It also requires that small farming be recognised as a job creation opportunity and business development services be provided to smallholder farmers.
South Africa’s poor, rural families are ready to build away from dependence on social welfare and develop small farming businesses to alleviate food insecurity and create jobs. Although it is not explicit in the budget, Heifer hopes that the investment in the technical aspects of farming – vaccine research, extension services, and agricultural training colleges – will be paired with a commitment to develop rural infrastructure and provide business support services to smallholder farmers.
Heifer International South Africa.