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Research of The Future of Food Security in South Africa

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The future of food security in South Africa appears to be very diverse in opportunity but it also appears to be a largely overlooked in importance. Food Security is according to the United states Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), defined as “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 healthy lifestyle”. It is estimated that roughly 14 million people go to bed hungry each night in a nation that holds a population of roughly 57 million people meaning roughly 24 percent of our population are not meeting Global Food Security standards. Potential consequences of food insecurity have on a population include hunger, Malnutrition and many other adverse effects whether direct or indirect on health and quality of life. Recent studies carried out by the UN and FAO have shown that global populations will exceed 9 Billion by 2050. This would indicate that combined with Humans increasing demand for high protein, energy and nutritional foods that we may soon be facing an enormous challenge in meeting such unprecedented supply and demand on farmers and Food Suppliers. This would mean that we would have to find new ways in tackling this challenge through farming systems that are sustainable as well as support increased food access to all sectors of society. Key Drivers of Food insecurity include rising demand for food, Climate change, natural resource availability and a lack of public and private investment in infrastructure as well as research and development in the agricultural sector although ultimately drivers vary according to between counties/ regions due to their unique list of physical, economic and social circumstances.


Due to South Africa’s low social economic standpoint majority of households spend a large share of their income on Food which means that something as common as a Food price increase would directly reduce the quality as well as the quantity of food in which these households can afford. This would have a dire impact on food security at a household level (Valdez and Foster, 2012). Due to South Africa’s high dependence on import of staple food such as wheat, we have managed to raise our dependency on global wheat supplies which can be directly harmful to food security within households as we have created an increased susceptibility to international prices as seen in 2007 – 08 where production shortfalls occurred in several major exporting countries which led to the global number of undernourished people to increase by just under 100 million people.

Food Prices are directly related to agricultural running costs (Machinery, Transport, food Processing to name but a few) which means that we are directly dependant on the price of fossil fuels which globally accounts for 30 percent of the world’s total energy consumption. This Direct Correlation between the rise in oil prices and South African Produce prices can be seen below in Table 1 which displays an average correlation of 0.74 between the below indicated Types of Produce which indicates a very strong relationship between the two. If we are to properly address the issue at hand we would have to look at what alternative fuels could be utilised to run the necessary Machinery, Transport and Processing of food. Governments support towards biofuel production has been very slight as previously conducted studies through the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) (2007) and Letete (2009) have shown that the economic viability of biofuels from locally grown energy crops may not be favourable. The studies have shown that even with economic incentives the only crop to be a viable alternative is sugarcane ethanol. This would mean that government as well as the private sector would need to do more in incentivising and helping to make renewable fuels more viable through subsidising of costs.

Another major driver in food insecurity is that of the water food link, which is highlighted firstly through the pricing of water. South Africa has always historically under priced its water supply due to the abundance of supply of which we are accustomed to, but we are fast approaching a point of water scarcity. Which became a reality between the El Nino we incurred of recent followed by an extended period of drought led to water prices in the past decade showing a similar trajectory to that of electricity in South Africa. Due to Climate change as well as South Africa being known to be a water scare country we will have to look to make better crop choices if we are to make food security a priority. Water scarcity also indirectly impacts food production through energy production as food production being very energy intensive, as is South Africa’s Consumption of Water to produce energy. This is because South Africa is incredibly reliant on outdated Coal fired energy plants which are highly dependent on a consistent water supply.

Electricity costs have increased by more than 24 percent since 2007 – 08 which has essentially impacted the agricultural sector very deeply. The Primary agricultural sector consumes three percent of all electricity consumed in South Africa which has increased by three percent per annuum since 1999. But as per the below Figure the costs for such have increased by twenty percent since 2009.

It is believed that rising energy prices will alter water allocation and distribution (Ziberman et al, 2008). It is believed that rising energy prices will have the greatest impact on agricultural activities such as Irrigation systems, pumping ground water, as well as diverting surface water and irrigation which will essentially make extraction, conveyance and purification more expensive. The prices of Energy and water are expected to consistently rise going forward given the huge additional capacity that has been planned to meet and essentially provide for the growing electricity and transportation demand that being coupled with the continual increase in volatile oil prices. Essentially these costs will be burdened to the tax payer who will have to foot the bill and have further negative implications to food security. These costs are not only burdened to the consumers but also to the farmers who are essentially getting less money for the same output as input costs are constantly cutting profit margins.

Previous Studies have also shown that Retailers are also struggling to manage input costs as seen in the below diagram due to highly inflated water and electricity increases (600%) these retailers are struggling to absorb these costs and essentially that are not able to and do eventually have to pass some of these costs on to the consumer or risk going out of business.

South Africa is currently in the process of evaluating and managing their energy options and carrying out an investigation towards all available technologies to encourage sustainable energy options. Although solutions currently do exist at a local and regional level the problem has always been scaling such solutions towards a departmental, notional Level. This is where government will have to step in and ensure that a project of this magnitude will receive the necessary budgetary requirements as well as the required level of management to ensure that it is able to be successful. For Example, one of the many solutions is the Water Research Commission (WRC) which targets the integration of irrigation and nutrient input. This project is aimed at decreasing the current farmers’ water and Fertilizer usage but in the same breath maximising the output of these farmers to ensure they meet the demands of a growing population.

An Issue which is of growing concern is the popular response seeming to arise from the above issues is the mass migration of people to Towns and cities in an effort to avoid being caught in such nasty situations as to not having sufficient water or energy supply to maintain a sustainable living standard which essentially results in further expansion of informal neighbourhoods which further results in its own suite of challenges on the people who are trying to avoid that very situation.

One particular solution would be to realize and maximise energy savings in the water supply sector. At this point in time we do not have sufficient information on the energy usage within the water Cycle in South Africa. Once this information is made available we can look towards energy efficient improvements which would ultimately alleviate shortages, waste and unsustainable usage.

Another solution would come at a regional level which would be to implement a water trade system which we have already seen the benefits of through projects such as Lesotho Highlands water project and the Nkomati Project we may need to look to these successful examples to involve more parties such as our neighbouring nations i.e. Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Further projects in this regard would only look to improve the current situation in South Africa as such trade would be beneficial to all parties across the SADC region and ultimately look to relinquish hardship and poverty throughout the region.


In Conclusion Food Inflation has come to pose a threat to food security in South Africa as It has done so in many other emerging markets across the globe. As detailed above Energy and water hold a very tight link to this threat and addressing such issues by passing the costs on to the consumers, manufacturers and retailers essentially results in further negative implications for food security. If these issues are not addressed upfront instead of being passed down the line, then we will find ourselves in the same situation as many other 3rd world economies.

Government may also look to a more detailed understanding of the production cycle and food security relationships to inform future policy options such as developing further infrastructure for the improvement of cost-effective agricultural production and effective processing. As essentially it is only through the complex understanding of the food energy nexus that we may look to overcome the issues detailed above through the development of effective, long term and sustainable strategies can we address the issue of Food Security in South Africa.


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