Northern Cape
Urgent Solution needed to ensure SA’s Food Security
12:31 (GMT+2), Mon , 04 February 2013
Northern Cape
South Africa faces a very real threat to our country’s food security due to unsustainable pressure on the poultry industry, the largest component of the agriculture sector, where chicken, the cheapest form of meat on the market, accounts for approximately half of our country’s protein needs.

Kevin Lovell, CEO of the South African Poultry Association, says the poultry industry, from supporting employment in grain production to jobs in poultry production, processing, distribution and retail, encompasses over 100 000 direct and indirect jobs, and the welfare of exponentially more dependent people, not to forget those that supply goods and services to the direct and indirect employees.

“Well over half a million people need our industry for their personal and business survival,” he says. “At this juncture, the only way to stave off this impending crisis is through concerted government intervention: in other words, we urgently need a political solution.”

Lovell says the South African poultry industry is looking to government to take steps to protect it from the flood of cheap chicken imports – an almost 40% increase in 2011 and all indicators pointing to at least the same rate for 2012.
“We need government support against the “dumping” of cheap imports on the local market, the supporting of producers – particularly emerging farmers – through instruments such as subsidies, re-examining trade policy in order to stimulate local production, and the development of the rural economy. It is the new, smaller producers who are the driving force for our transformation as an industry and country that will lose first, and lose most,” he says.

In South Africa though, Lovell says the threat facing the poultry industry and thus the country’s food security, can be managed through concerted and direct State action. For example, government can limit cheap imports by making use of the existing mechanism to increase tariffs from the current 27% to the permitted 82%, by continuing to monitor and regulate the dumping of chicken onto the local market, and implementing subsidies to support the local industry, especially for the smaller producers and new entrants to the market.

“Food security also constitutes an important element of the Millennium Development Goals. In fact, the first of the eight MDGs is to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger”, with its sub-target to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015. Whether or not this lofty aim will be met remains to be seen, but what is clear from this goal is that food security is seen globally as a political issue,” he says.

According to Lovell, food security has three principal facets: food availability, food access and food use. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, which concerns itself with global food security, lists a fourth: the stability of the first three over time.
“An additional factor to consider is that most countries see food security as an important measure of the nation’s psychological wellbeing – we who can feed ourselves have more to offer to those around us, more opportunity to grow in other ways,” says Lovell.

The South African poultry industry is doing everything it can to stay afloat, but its viability is being eroded by the day. The time is not far off, says Lovell, when producers will be shutting down – first, the smaller, more vulnerable producers, and then the larger ones.

“The latter are certainly not immune to this situation; margins are so tight for poultry producers, that a 5% return on investment is seen as quite good. When that margin vanishes, so do many jobs in various sectors, the ability of South Africans to feed themselves, and the food itself. We will increase hunger in our country by our collapse, not reduce it as the importers would have us believe. The cost of things is not always the same as their value,” he says. “We’ve long lamented the loss of home grown industries such as shoes and textiles, which did not enjoy government support and were all but obliterated by cheaper foreign imports. These are lessons that we seem not to want to learn, but we have a positive example also: government’s Motor Industry Development Programme (MIDP). Since 1995, the MIDP has stimulated the local automotive manufacturing industry – and exports – through initiatives that allow manufacturers to include total export values as part of their local content total, and then also permitting them to import goods, duty-free, to the same value. It is because of the MIDP that we still have an automotive industry – so why dither about another industry that is undoubtedly more critical to our nation’s welfare?”

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