UN Food Expert Calls on South Africa to Create “Inclusive Food System”

By Dana Drugmand

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, is encouraging South Africa to build a food economy that benefits the majority of the population, including the poor. “South Africa needs to create food systems that work for the poor and not only sell to the poor,” De Schutter said, speaking at the end of his official mission to South Africa. The Special Rapporteur recently made a visit, at the invitation of the South African government, to assess the country’s agricultural programs and policies.

Village in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

South Africa is home to 12 million food insecure people, 70 percent of whom live in rural areas. These people have yet to see results from South Africa’s policies that put food security at the top of the government’s agenda, according to De Schutter. “The set of policies is encouraging, but the results still are below expectations,” he said.

In addition to opening up pro-poor food markets, De Schutter said that South Africa could use a new set of policies to set up local food systems that promote fresh and nutritious food and favor small-scale farmers. These small-scale farmers are marginalized in a market system that traces back to the Apartheid era. “In contrast to the large white commercial farmers, the newly established black farmers are small-scale farmers, with poor access to markets, a lack of marketing skills, and a weaker bargaining position in the food chains,” said De Schutter. One way to help these small-scale farmers is to develop incentives to encourage large commercial farmers to support emerging farmers. Commercial farmers, for example, could benefit by sharing their access to markets with emerging small-scale farmers.

De Schutter also recognized a need for a more rights-based approach to agricultural programs. This means involving the most vulnerable groups, such as women and the poor, in the design of agricultural policies – and focusing policies on the needs of these vulnerable groups.

The improvement of the situation of farm workers was another one of De Schutter’s recommendations. The rights of these farm workers are not strictly enforced, partly because of the limited capacity of labor inspectors – there are currently only 1,000 inspectors to cover the whole territory – for all sectors. One suggestion to improve this situation is to allow union workers, after appropriate training, to be certified to conduct inspections on farms.

De Schutter, who is a contributing author to State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, is therefore calling on South Africa to create a more just and equitable food economy. “We must create an inclusive food system for South Africa,” he said.

Dana Drugmand is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project. 

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