SA improves food security ranking, despite drought

Johannesburg - South Africa’s food security ranking has improved three places to 44th out of 113 countries, and the country ranks first on the African continent.

This is according to the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Food security - the state in which people have access to enough nutritious food to meet their dietary needs for a healthy life - is measured across three pillars.

These are affordability, availability and quality and safety. A new category, natural resources and resilience, was introduced this year. It looks specifically at a country’s exposure to climate change, and natural resources risks to food security.  

South Africa is one of a few countries that improved its performance, while for the first time in five years global performance dropped. Contributors to the poor global performance include decreasing public sector investments, worsening political instability, escalating climate change and increasing migration. More than 60% of countries recorded a drop in their scores.

South Africa performed particularly well, despite last year's drought. During the drought the country managed to produce half of its requirements, recording a record grain harvest for 2016/17, said Paul Makube, agricultural economist at FNB.

South Africa’s score improved by 0.2 of a point to 64 out of 100. Its score for affordability rose 1.3 points to 62.7. There was no change to the quality and safety score of 59.7 but the score for availability dropped 0.7 points to 66.8. In terms of natural resources and resilience, South Africa scored 57.7 compared to a global average score of 62.6.

Among South Africa’s strengths are its food safety net programmes. According to the report, these are public initiatives that protect the poor from food-related shocks. Other strengths include nutritional standards, which include national nutrition plans, dietary guidelines and nutritional monitoring.

But stagnant GDP growth remains a challenge. Speaking to Fin24 by phone on Monday, ABSA’s senior agricultural economist Wessel Lemmer explained that food is not expensive to produce in South Africa. The issue is that there is a lack of sufficient income among South Africans to buy the low-priced food.

With a 27% unemployment rate, South Africa is missing out on the economic opportunities of having a population aged younger than 25, he explained. “We need to improve the employment numbers to have economic growth greater than 0.5%,” said Lemmer.

There should be better policy to improve economic growth, especially policies for the agricultural sector. South Africa is currently a net exporter of food. Lemmer warned against the country becoming a net importer, as imported foods are expensive. This will lead to protests over the unaffordability of food, and not just dissatisfaction with service delivery as has been the case.

Makube also elaborated on the plight of the poor. Although on a national level South Africa is regarded as a “food secure” nation, the situation for households in rural areas is different. “About 30.4 million people (54% of the total population) are reportedly living in poverty and if this trend continues, the food security situation might come under pressure,” he said.

Besides rising poverty levels, other challenges to food security include water scarcity and weather variability due to climate change, he explained.

Lemmer said producers should be supported and that there should be more investment in the sector, particularly to develop technology to improve production. The contribution of agriculture to the economy should be taken more seriously, and even budget allocations for provinces should be sufficient to keep the agriculture sector going, he said.

Prabdeep Bajwa, regional director of DuPont’s agricultural business in Africa Middle East, urged governments, civil society and the private sector to work together and invest in disaster risk reduction strategies.

“This is important to run in parallel with longer-term structural and productivity enhancement programmes that ensure that future food supplies are sufficient to meet the needs of Africa’s growing population,” he said.

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