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South Africans are being denied their right to be free from hunger

Wilmot James, Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry
14 May 2012

Rapidly rising food prices are undermining poor South Africans’ human right to be free from hunger. The cumulative effect of global price increases, depressed agricultural production in South Africa, and very steep hikes in administered prices is putting sufficient quantities of safe and nutritious food out of reach of the majority of South African households.

Survey data indicate that 52% of households experience hunger, while a further 33% are at risk as a consequence of declining purchasing power.

Food price hikes of 14.3% (compared to 6.3% headline CPI) and the fact that the cost of food now consumes 39% of the income of poor South African households means that, in practice, the right to have access to sufficient food – which is enshrined in the Constitution – is quickly being eroded.

The cost of basic staples is rising even faster. The price of a 5kg bag of maize meal – a staple food for many South African families – rose by 63.88% between January 2011 and January 2012. For poor families that rely on a single breadwinner, or depend on state grants to get by, this represents a fundamental subsistence crisis.

Research conducted by the DA and various international organisations further illustrates this:

  • One third of households report running out of money to buy sufficient food and one out of five children say they are hungry because of this.
  • The proportion of undernourished people in South Africa today has not declined since 2000. It is twice that of Malaysia and Chile, and roughly the same as Gabon.
  • A varied basket of healthy and nutritious foods consisting of carbohydrates, protein, fruit and dairy costs up to 100% more than in other developing countries.

Today the DA launches a comprehensive campaign to highlight South Africans’ constitutionally enshrined human right to food. It marks the beginning of a programme of initiatives and events to engage the national government and industry stakeholders to improve food access and affordability.

The campaign complements the DA’s headline policy initiative – the 8% Growth Project – by acknowledging the crucial role played by the agricultural sector in enhancing the country’s food security position. Facilitating production growth by supporting emerging farmers; reducing the impact of administered prices; and assisting with climate change adaptation are all high priorities for the DA. 

Ensuring food security by containing and reducing the cost of food is furthermore affected by the relatively low levels of competition in the food retail sector (which is dominated by only  three large players) and inefficiencies in distribution that result from South Africa’s declining transport infrastructure; the ever-rising cost of fuel; and additional cost inputs such as new e-tolls. Through the 8% Growth Project, the DA is tackling these issues head-on.

Food and nutrition insecurity presents one of the most pressing challenges facing South Africa today, and the DA is committed to putting affordable food at the forefront of its policy agenda, both as the official opposition in Parliament, and as a party of government. Highlights from the campaign will include:

  • Site visits to investigate the impact of food price increases at retail outlets, wholesalers, and producers by the Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry and other members of the DA leadership;
  • submitting a series of Parliamentary Questions on food security to ascertain what steps the national government is taking to reduce the cost of food and communicate this to the public;
  • submitting a Private Member’s Bill in the National Assembly calling on the national government to ratify the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which includes the right to be ‘free from hunger’;
  • engaging both established and emerging food producers to gauge the core challenges limiting production growth and communicate these to the relevant national and provincial authorities;
  • establishing a dedicated website with a food price tracking system to provide people with up-to-date information regarding food prices and how the cost of food products impacts on their income.

Access to food is a fundamental human right and the DA is committed to making this right a reality for all.

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The full document is available here.