NAMPO 2022: Speaking to farmers about beating SA’s cost of food crisis

Issued by John Steenhuisen MP – Leader of the Democratic Alliance
17 Sep 2022 in News

Today I will be attending the NAMPO agricultural show in Bredasdorp in the Overberg district of the Western Cape where I will engage with farmers and other role players in the sector on South Africa’s unfolding cost of food crisis. See photos here, here and here.

This important exhibition and discussion forum, hosted by the National Maize Producers Organisation (NAMPO) and Grain SA, is where ideas and innovations in the agricultural sector are exchanged, and can play a pivotal role in our country’s efforts to remain food secure.

What has become clear is that national government does not have a plan to shield vulnerable South Africans from spiralling food price inflation, and if we are to have any success in tackling this crisis, many of the solutions will have to come from elsewhere. Thankfully our country has long embraced a whole-of-society approach to fixing our many problems, and the agricultural sector is no exception.

Recent studies have found that the cost of food crisis in South Africa is far more severe than government is letting on, and it is exacting a heavy toll on millions of poor South Africans. 81% of households are skipping at least one daily meal and 41% say they can’t feed their families anymore. One of the most shocking statistics revealed is that childhood stunting and wasting now affects 27% of children under age 5. In an upper-middle income country like South Africa, that is an unacceptable number.

Daily hunger and malnutrition also impacts school children’s ability to concentrate and learn, as well as causing diet-related diseases and impaired teenage brain development, not to mention the risk of starvation. And in this pressure cooker situation, there is also the significantly increased risk of social instability and riots that would cause further infrastructure damage, business closures, disinvestment, job losses, skills flight, tax revenue losses, and interrupted service delivery.

Nine days ago the DA sent President Ramaphosa a plan made up of five interventions that will bring immediate relief to the cost of food crisis. We presented him with this plan in time for his Finance Minister, Enoch Godongwana, to include these interventions in his Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) in October, as this would be the perfect opportunity to address the issue in a meaningful and immediate way.

These five interventions are:

1. Cut fuel taxes and levies to lower the cost of transport

This would have the double impact of lowering people’s transport costs, thereby enabling them to allocate more household budget towards food, as well as lowering the input costs for food producers. The DA calls on the ANC to support its Private Member’s Bill to deregulate the fuel price and make fuel tax cuts in the upcoming adjusted budget.

2. Reallocate the R50 million food aid for Cuba to feed hungry people at home

It is inexcusable for government to take R50 million belonging to the people of South Africa and use it to provide food aid for Cuba when people here at home are starving, and points to a government deeply out of touch with the suffering of its own citizens. This is a cost-neutral intervention that must be done right away.

3. Review the list of zero-rated food items

Government must expand the list of zero-rated food items to include more items commonly purchased by the poorest 50% of households, such as bone-in chicken, beef, tinned beans, wheat flour, margarine, peanut butter, baby food, tea, coffee, soup powder. Changes could be put through in the MTBPS. We especially call on government to zero-rate bone-in chicken and other chicken categories commonly purchased by low-income households.

4. Review import tariffs on some food items

Cutting import tariffs on pasta and some chicken categories – sooner than the MTBPS – will bring some immediate relief. The impact on the fiscus will be negligible, but the impact on poor households will be big.

5. Provide private title to all land reform beneficiaries on state land and landholders in communal areas

This is a longer-term solution that will dramatically increase food production and improve food security while bringing down the cost of food. It will also significantly grow our country’s tax revenue. Government must transfer full title ownership from the state to all land reform beneficiaries, and it must survey and register all land rights on trust/communal land, and transfer title to all those who want it (explicitly including women).

These five interventions will bring much needed – and immediate – relief to South Africans struggling to feed their families even one meal a day. There is enough time for President Ramaphosa and Minister Godongwana to consider their inclusion in next month’s MTBPS, and they will not have a better opportunity to make a meaningful impact.

But outside of national government, we must continue to seek more solutions to the cost of food crisis. Many of these solutions are already being implemented by DA governments, such as the almost 500,000 school children who are fed daily by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) through school feeding schemes, the 25,000 children who are fed by the WCED through after-school and youth development programmes and the 571 food gardens that the WCED helped establish.

And it is at forums such as NAMPO, where our country’s innovative and committed farming community come together to share ideas, that some of the most impactful solutions will surface. I look forward to meeting these farmers today and to discuss how our entire country can meet this challenge head on.