Food Security Working Group  


November 1997


This Discussion Document was produced by the Food Security Working Group (FSWG) set up by the Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs in October 1996. Names of FSWG members are listed in ANNEXURE A.1. The document will contribute to policy development on Agriculture. In addition it provides a policy statement on Food Security in South Africa. The process through which this document was generated remains worth highlighting.

The first phase of activities of the FSWG aimed at planning the activities. One of the stepping-stones was the World Food Summit of 1996, where FSWG contributed the draft country position paper on Food Security, as well as having some members attending the summit. A framework was developed during a two-day workshop at the beginning of 1997. Two delegates representing FAO and SADC food security desk facilitated the workshop. This framework provided a working concept of food availability, accessibility and utilisation as basic "building blocks" of a food security policy.

The next phase required the commissioning of a number of technical papers by the FSWG to provide in-depth information and input for the preparation of this discussion paper. These papers are listed in Annexure A2.

The third phase entailed drafting of a discussion document. The group appointed a three member Drafting Team to put this document together. Two of the members were from the working group, while the other was externally recruited. Regular meetings and intermittent workshops were held to review and guide the drafting process which culminated in this document on:

"Food Security Policy for South Africa"

Since October 1996, twenty-two meetings have been held with the final meeting on the 25
October 1997.


Nobayeni Dladla 5 November 1997
Chairperson: FSWG



1.1 Vision 

1.2 Principles and policy objectives

1.3 Purpose of this document 


2.1 Dimensions of food insecurity 

2.1.1 Food insecurity and nutritional status of children 

2.1.2 Human development indication 

2.2 Who and where are the vulnerable? 

2.2.1 Vulnerability by race

2.2.2 Poverty and gender 

2.2.3 Poverty and age 

2.2.4 Provincial distribution of poverty 

2.2.5 Rural / Urban distribution 

2.3 Food insecurity as a process 

2.4 Food availability: demand, domestic production and importation 

2.5 Food distribution

2.6 Agriculture, growth, equity and food security 

2.7 Food security in the Southern African Region


3.1 Ensuring enough food is available, now and in the future 

3.2 Matching incomes and prices to ensure access to food for everyone 

3.3 Enabling consumer to make choices for optimal health and nutrition 


4.1 Agriculture and land reform 

4.1.1 Introduction 

4.1.2 Policy Proposals 

4.2 Food trade 

4.2.1 Introduction 

4.2.2 Policy proposals 

4.3 Income enhancement and diversification 

4.3.1 Introduction

4.3.2 Policy Proposals 

4.4 Social security and welfare services 

4.4.1 Introduction 

4.4.2 Policy Proposals 

4.5 Disaster mitigation 

4.5.1 Introduction 

4.5.2 Policy proposals 

4.6 Food consumption and nutrition 

4.6.1 Introduction 

4.6.2 Policy proposals 


5.1 Introduction 

5.2 Recommendations on institutional reform 

5.2.1 Enhancing Co-ordination on Food Security Programs 

5.2.2 Building Capacity to manage food security options 

5.3 Recommendations on information management

5.3.1 Food Security Monitoring Systems 

5.3.2 Provide incentives for information sharing 

5.4 Recommendations on science and technology 

5.4.1 Introduce Technology for Value Adding 

5.4.2 Biotechnological Research 

5.4.3 Information Technology 

Annexure A-1 : Members of food security working group 

Annexure A-2: Commissioned technical papers on food security in South Africa 

Annexure B.1: Comparison of GDP & social indicators of selected middle income countries 

Annexure B.2: Values and rankings of HDI for South African provinces and selected countries 




1. 1 Vision

A country where everyone has access to adequate, safe and nutritious food.

1.2 Principles and policy objectives

South Africa is a middle-income country with a per capita income similar to those of Botswana, Brazil, Malaysia, and Mauritius. The South African food situation has been and is still characterised by an apparent state of sufficiency for the nation. Despite this national food security and relative wealth, the experience of most South African households is that of continued poverty which is manifested in food insecurity, ill health and arduous work for low returns. In common with many countries, South Africa's inability to satisfy essential needs stems from many sources, but poverty and hunger in South Africa are particularly shaped by the impact of apartheid. One aspect of this system was a process of active disposition of assets such as land and livestock from the black majority, while opportunities to develop, such as access to markets, infrastructure and human development, were denied them. Until 1985 food policies pursued self-sufficiency goals, and thus protected domestic commercial farm production, often at the cost of consumers, and resulting in a total welfare loss to the country as a whole.

Despite the dramatic changes in South Africa during the 1990's, many of the distortions and dynamics introduced by apartheid continue to perpetuate conditions that lead to food insecurity. The correct identification of these forces and the introduction of remedial policies is a complex task, and require careful conceptualisation. A new food security policy needs to focus on individual and household level food security. Such a policy should address in a comprehensive manner the availability, accessibility and utilisation of food at a macro and a micro level.

Food availability depends on domestic food production, international importation and efficiency of food distribution, and is assessed in the light of the food requirements of the population. It therefore relies on the performance of the agricultural sector, the country's ability to import and post harvest storage, processing and distribution systems.

Food accessibility refers to the ability of households to obtain sufficient food for all members at all times, either through production for own consumption, or through exchange. The chronically poor, who have low or variable incomes, few assets and few marketable skills, and who lack powerful advocates, are most vulnerable to chronic food insecurity. Transient food insecurity, which is often the result of economic or natural disasters, is exacerbated by poverty, and such crises may give rise to distress sales of assets, leading
eventually to chronic food insecurity.

Food utilisation refers to the final use of food by individuals at household level. The range of household food practices, including preservation and storage, selection, preparation and final consumption is influenced by intra-household factors, such as women's control over resources and decision-making authority. These are in turn influenced by broader social and economic changes, such as urbanisation, by exposure to education, marketing and advertising, and by cultural norms. Nutritional well-being of individual household members, particularly children, depends not only on food being accessible to the household, but also on its utilisation, as well as health and care behaviour.

The broad scope of food security calls for a comprehensive and multisectoral approach. The right of access to sufficient food and water is enshrined in the South African constitution. The state has a primary responsibility to provide a framework within which households and individuals can exercise choices to achieve food security in a manner that will not jeopardise the security of future generations. The state must also take appropriate measures to ensure that vulnerable groups, particularly young children and the elderly, are able to meet their food needs.

The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) and the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy (GEAR) of the Government of South Africa provide the strategic framework for action to achieve food security for all. The RDP, adopted by the Government of National Unity in 1994, identifies food as a basic need that should be met. It recognised poverty as a direct consequence of apartheid and the skewed nature of incomes which accompanied it. It identifies sustainability, productivity, participation, nation-building and democratisation as the principles guiding strategies to tackle poverty.

The GEAR strategy forms the macro-economic framework within which a Food Security Policy must be developed. It provides the fiscal, monetary and exchange rate policies required to stabilise the economy and enhance international competitiveness, and emphasises employment creation, stimulating new investment, infrastructure investment and human resource development as key areas.

The Agriculture White Paper (1995) commits the South African government to addressing both national and household food security. A key focus of the agriculture strategy is to broaden access to agriculture of those who were previously excluded from the sector, within an increasingly competitive global environment. Thus, the strategic role of agriculture requires a rethinking of existing strategies and support programmes for actions which can effectively support economic growth and contribute to equity and achieve food security for all.

South Africa's food security policy is furthermore being developed within a broader regional and international context of heightened awareness of the importance of achieving food security for all. In the Rome Declaration on World Food Security 1996, South Africa and other countries pledged to support the World Summit Plan of Action. Leaders committed themselves to creating an enabling political, social and economic environment, implementing policies and programmes for the eradication of poverty, and achieving durable peace, based on the full and equal participation of women and men. They further pledged to take action to ensure that technology development, farm management, trade and growth policies and distribution systems are conducive to fostering food security, and that natural disasters and human-made emergencies are prevented or anticipated so that their impact on food consumption is minimised. The Declaration also promoted optimal allocation and use of public and private sector resources to achieve food security goals.

At a regional level, South Africa is committed to working together with the other Southern African Development Community (SADC) member countries to achieve regional food security. SADC subscribes to the view that policies and programmes must address national, household and individual food security. The SADC Food Security Unit in Harare, Zimbabwe, has an important promotional, facilitative and regulatory role, to enable national entities, both public and private, to address food security issues. A regional policy framework is currently being developed in a consultative manner. This is important due to the high climatic correlation among states in the region. Furthermore economic, social and political changes in the region necessitate closer collaboration between the public and private sectors to achieve these goals.

All South Africans are thus challenged to participate in strategies to ensure the availability, accessibility and utilisation of adequate, safe and nutritious food for all members of households at all times on a sustainable basis.

1.3 Purpose of this document

The purpose of this document is to stimulate discussion on the food security challenge, and to serve in the preparation of a Green Paper on Food Security. It aims to:



Food Security is access by all people at all times to adequate safe and nutritious food for a healthy and productive life.

The South African reality is that:

  • Approximately fourteen million South Africans are vulnerable to food insecurity. Among these, women, children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. 
  • One in four children under the age of six years (some 1,5 million) are stunted due to chronic malnutrition. Deficiencies in micro-nutrients such as vitamin A and iron are also widespread and have negative consequences for children's growth and development.
  • Food insecurity and malnutrition are highest in provinces with large rural populations.
  • Food insecurity is highest among the African population, but also affects many Coloured households.
  • Urban and rural households adopt diverse livelihood strategies to maintain food security, including food production, local employment, migrant labour, and reliance on social security benefits and local support systems.
  • Many deficit producers in the former homelands are net consumers of food and are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. Urban households exposed to low and unsustainable incomes are equally vulnerable.
  • Rapid changes in macro-economic, trade and agricultural production policies to promote growth with equity may have a negative impact over the short to medium term on availability and access to food in particular regions and for particular groups.
  • Inappropriate management of droughts and other disasters has exacerbated food insecurity.
  • The South African food security situation is closely correlated with and linked to the Southern African Region.

2.1 Dimensions of food insecurity

Food security is defined as access by all people at all times to adequate, safe and nutritious food for a healthy and productive life. South Africa as a country is largely self-sufficient in food, yet, 1,5 million children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and an estimated 14 million people are vulnerable to food insecurity. Food insecurity is closely associated with poverty and vulnerability consequently, poverty indicators are used below to describe and locate food insecurity in South Africa.

2.1.1 Food insecurity and nutritional status of children

The best available direct measure of food insecurity is an estimate of the adequacy of daily energy intake. Using seven-day recall expenditure data, the PSLSD1 (1994) estimated that 39% of the population (14,8 million people) did not meet their daily energy requirement (2000 kcal/day).

Compared to international ranges2 protein energy malnutrition, as measured by stunting levels, is a moderate public health problem in South Africa. The national stunting rate for young children ranges between 23% and 27%. This means that approximately 1,5 million children under the age of 6 years are malnourished. Among the ultra-poor (the poorest twenty percent of households) the rate is 38%, while it is only 6% among the rich. The highest stunting rates occur in the Northern Province (34,2%), Eastern Cape (28,8%) and Free State (28,7%). In contrast, Western Cape (11,6%) and Gauteng (11,5%) exhibit low stunting rates by international standards. Whereas the three provinces of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Northern Province house 52% of the country's children, an estimated 60% of all stunted children and two thirds of poor people live in these three provinces3.

Anaemia and marginal vitamin A status are widespread micro-nutrient deficiencies, affecting between 20 and 30% of young children. Children in rural areas and those of mothers with limited education are worst off4.

2.1.2 Human development indication

One approach to placing South Africa's poverty and social deprivation in an international context is to compare indicators of human development in South Africa with those of countries with similar income levels. Annexure B.1 shows that South Africa fares poorly when compared with other middle-income countries. Countries with comparable or lower per capita GNP levels generally perform better in terms of indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality and adult literacy.

These three indicators are used to construct the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) composite Human Development Index (HDI). Annexure B.2 shows the HDI for South Africa and its nine provinces in relation to selected countries. At the time of the above analysis, South Africa ranked 86th amongst countries for which the HDI had been measured. South Africa is considered to have a medium level of human development, similar to that of Paraguay, Iran or Sri Lanka. There are great disparities in the level of human development between different parts of the country. The Western Cape and Gauteng have a high level of human development, similar to that of Venezuela or the Ukraine. The Northern Province, on the other hand, has a low HDI, comparable with that
of Zimbabwe or Namibia.

2.2 Who and where are the vulnerable?

2.2.1 Vulnerability by race

While poverty is not confined to any one racial group in South Africa, it is concentrated among Africans. Figure 2 shows the poverty rate by racial breakdown. It shows that 66% of Africans are poor, compared with less than 2% of white households.

Note: figures refer to the percentage of individuals that reside in poor households.

2.2.2 Poverty and gender

Vulnerability to food insecurity also has a gender dimension. About 48% of women, as compared to about 43% of men live in poverty in both the urban and rural areas. In addition, about 67% of female headed households in rural areas are poor.

2.2.3 Poverty and age

Many of the poor in South Africa cannot personally do much to alleviate their deprivation, because they are either children or elderly persons. Three-fifths of the poor are over 60 or under 18.

Three children in every five live in poor households. Children in some provinces are far more likely to be poor than those in others. In the Northern Province, for example, 83% of children live in poor households, compared to only 21% in Gauteng .

2.2.4 Provincial distribution of poverty

Poverty is distributed unevenly among South Africa's nine provinces. The Eastern Cape and the Northern Province have by far the highest poverty rates. In these provinces, almost three-quarters of the population is poor. In contrast, the poverty rates in Gauteng and Western Cape are both under 20%. The Eastern Cape, Northern Province, and the Free State account for a disproportionate share of the total poverty gap5. While containing only 35% of the population, poor households in these provinces generate 59% of the total poverty gap. Together with KwaZulu-Natal, the most populous province, they make up three-quarters of the national poverty gap. In contrast, Gauteng and the Western Cape make up only 7% of the total poverty gap, despite having 26% of the population.

The provincial distribution of poverty is closely linked to the administrative structures of the apartheid era, where public and private resources were concentrated in the provinces largely reserved for whites. Provinces such as Northern Province and the Eastern Cape, which are largely made up of the former `homelands' for Africans suffer from a much higher burden of poverty.

Figure 1: Provincial shares of the poverty gap

2.2.5 Rural / Urban distribution

In line with poverty distribution by provinces, 72% of poor people live in rural areas, and about 70% of rural people are poor. This is despite the fact that urban/rural population distribution is almost equal at 51%/49%. Rural poverty is exacerbated by the disproportionate lack of access to services.

The rural concentration of poverty should however not detract attention from urban poverty. According to the preliminary results of the 1996 census, more than half (55,4%) of the estimated population now live in urban areas6. Therefore, urban poverty and food insecurity requires serious consideration. Poverty levels are highest in small towns, followed by secondary cities and lowest in the metropolitan areas (35.1%, 26.7% and 15.4% respectively).

Given greater population concentrations, the largest numbers of the urban poor are in metropolitan areas, but the poverty burden is most severe in the small towns and secondary cities7. Within metropolitan areas, the PWV region has the largest concentration of the urban poor, although the share of poverty carried by the Port Elizabeth metropolitan area and to a lesser extent by the Durban area, is greater relative to their population share. In all urban and metropolitan areas, the informal or shack settlements are the major local concentrations of poverty. Shack settlements around secondary cities and small towns have poverty rates close to that of the rural areas, demonstrating the closing divide in urban-rural income differentials, primarily for the African population.

2.3 Food insecurity as a process

To determine policy priorities to address food insecurity, it is necessary to understand the dynamic process through which poor people create livelihood. Poor people experience critical shortages in material, social and human resources, and have few opportunities for economic activity. For example, in 1993, it was estimated that only 26% of rural African households had access to land for cultivation and regular wages were the primary source of income for only 32% of the poor8.

Poor households combine their resources in a variety of ways to enable them to meet a minimum level of living. These livelihood strategies, which may include agricultural production, non-farm wage labour, small and micro-enterprise activities, claims against the state (e.g. pensions) and reliance on social networks form the basis of their long term survival. Seasonal and monthly variability in access to food occur at the household level, with negative consequences for the health and nutritional status of vulnerable households members. Furthermore, when faced with external shocks such as drought, strategies are put under severe strain, which may lead to transient and chronic food insecurity.

2.4 Food availability: demand, domestic production and importation

Generally, South Africa has been meeting its food requirements with domestic production for most items. In a number of years maize and potatoes have been exported, with imports of potatoes being very minimal. However, South Africa relied on imports to meet wheat and meat requirements. Dry beans were sometimes imported, though in many years domestic production was sufficient to meet the country's requirements.

However, the expected need for food products shows that by year 2000, South Africa's wheat demands would have grown by more than 30%, by more than 50% by 2010 and by almost 90% by 20209. This can be compared to the modest growth for maize demands which is about 10% in the year 2000, 15% by year 2010 and about 40% by year 2020 compared to current demand. Demand for mutton will increase by about 20%, 40% and 70% in years 2000, 2010 and 2020 respectively compared. The areas of fastest demand growth are thus wheat followed by mutton. Poultry is also a high growth area of demand as well as fresh milk.

The pattern in the increasing food demand provides particular challenges for capacity to supply sufficient food to households. It seems that the current production levels will not match the projected future demand unless production is increased. Technological innovation, managerial upgrading and sustainable farm production will require a range of policies and support systems. A clear statement on domestic production policies is required. One case in point is the potential expansion of the production in the former homelands and the introduction of new farmers on lands.

Domestic production should be driven by economic viability, with low consumer food prices as a very important criterion. Competition in the global market will become an increasing feature of the South African food system. This implies that local domestic production will have to compete with food import options.

South Africa has reasonable port facilities for the bulk importation of grains, though limited to approximately 3 million tonnes of bulk grain in any one year. Durban has three terminals which can all handle (to varying degrees) imports and exports of bulked grains. East London has one terminal which can export but not import although importation facilities are being established. Cape Town has both import and export facilities, though not capable of handling bulk.

Apparently, South Africa has adequate facilities to import and store food when it gets uncertain of future production potential. However, the capacity is not without limitations especially when incorporating the SADC requirements and household level distribution systems. These should also be taken into consideration when reviewing strategic food reserves.

2.5 Food distribution

A third component of macro availability of food deals with the efficiency of distribution. The current structure of the bulk handling and storage market is very concentrated. A small number of geographically defined co-operatives control most of South Africa's bulk silos, to a very large degree as a result of the combined effect of historical statutory initiatives. Policy concerns around this important part of the grain marketing infrastructure relate to questions of access, pricing, and the extent to which the ownership of the silo infrastructure can be translated into control over the market for certain grains.

Unfortunately the household level distribution system has been eroded during the course of time. In the past, the South African government provided little support for household storage facilities. As such, the informal distribution system is a survival operation for most households. This compares unfavourably with other countries in Southern Africa that promoted household level storage systems.

2.6 Agriculture, growth, equity and food security

The agricultural sector is expected to remain a central component for any Food and Food Security Policy for South (and Southern Africa). This link needs further analysis. The true contribution of the agricultural sector is obscured by a relative low direct contribution of less than 5% to GDP and approximately 13% of employment. If the full impact of income and employment linkages and multipliers are included this increases to approximately 12% and 30% respectively. The agricultural sector is also creating positive income distribution impacts by directing significant income streams to the poorer groups in society.

Employment in agriculture has been declining since the 1970's, largely due to the substitution of mechanisation for labour due to tax concessions and interest rate subsidies which encouraged mechanisation of agriculture during the seventies and early mid eighties. Since that period labour shedding has been contained with some increases in people directly employed in agriculture. However, the recent wave of employment reduction in agriculture may be attributed to political uncertainties and most probably the process of introducing farm labour legislation. These effects seem to be waning down, thus leaving only labour productivity concerns.

The land reform process is making some inroads in settling farmers on land. It is hoped that the program will lead to the emergence of new farmers with increased production capacity. It appears that newly settled farmers as well as farmers operating in the former homeland areas are experiencing a number of constraints related to financial and technical support and supply of resources. New innovative farm models are clearly required to link such farmers to appropriate support networks. These should enable the emergence of food sufficient producers as well as commercial surplus farmers competing in global markets.

2.7 Food security in the Southern African Region

Countries of the Southern African Region (including SADC) share similar climatic patterns and weather condition. The legacy of unequal development and population migration links the subcontinent in to a common destiny. Indications are that the regional demand for marketed grains will increase four fold by the year 202010. Food security must therefore be viewed from a regional perspective. Production promotion, trade and distribution policies need to be harmonised and co-ordinated.


South Africa faces three key food security challenges: 

  • Ensuring enough food is available, now and in the future  

Constraints: macro-economic constraints, expanding demand, variable climate, inappropriate technology and inefficient farm production, past policies, trade restrictions.

  •  Matching incomes and prices to ensure access to food for everyone 

Constraints: chronic poverty, variable and declining real incomes, food price increases, limited employment opportunities, inefficient food distribution system. 

  • Enabling consumers to make food choices for optimal health and nutrition

Constraints: inappropriate education on food use and nutrition, lack of awareness of food safety issues, social restrictions, cultural norms.

The food security challenges for South Africa involve the following:

3.1 Ensuring enough food is available, now and in the future

Projections show that although South Africa is currently meeting its consumption requirements, the growing population, rise in income levels and change in preferences may lead to increased demand for food. Items likely to be in high demand include wheat, poultry, mutton, maize, potatoes and pork. Health considerations may increase the taste for food items such as pulses (or legumes), vegetables and fish, while traditional crops such as grain sorghum, may rise in popularity.

South Africa is committed to being a partner in ensuring food security in the SADC region. The substantial increase in demand for grains by increasingly urbanised populations poses challenges for the production, trade and marketing systems. This commitment therefore offers opportunities and poses challenges at the same time, given the availability of natural resources on the one hand, and infrastructure constraints on the other.

With regard to supply, availability will be influenced by changes in macro-economic policies, trade, technology and production conditions. The need to provide a sustainable supply calls for a harmonised domestic production and international trade regime.

3.2 Matching incomes and prices to ensure access to food for everyone

High levels of poverty, unemployment and seasonal variability in income levels mean that many households in South Africa find themselves permanently or temporarily unable to meet their daily food requirements. Poverty reduction and its eventual elimination is there
fore a key food security challenge.

Macro-economic reforms and sectoral policies aimed at stimulating economic growth and employment are being implemented, and will over time improve incomes, while the liberalisation of the food market should contribute to greater efficiency and moderation of price increases. Nevertheless, the challenge of eliminating poverty is formidable, and requires direct, focused short and medium term actions. Rural households are particularly vulnerable, due to their reliance on remittances and household food production systems. They are constrained by a lack of economic activities in close proximity to their communities, inappropriate farmer support services, and face constraints to gaining access to employment elsewhere, such as a lack of information and transport.

3.3 Enabling consumer to make choices for optimal health and nutrition

Individuals may live in food secure households but still consume poor diets, which contributes to malnutrition and disease. Improvements in the availability of food and a household's access to food will not necessarily translate into improved nutrition for all household members. The most vulnerable groups are children, the elderly, and women, who often lack the power to make decisions on how household resources are to be used and may lack sound information about food and nutrition. Cultural belief and practices may lead to poor food choices, but so may exposure to new foods, particularly in the urban environment. Food safety and quality are also emerging concerns, as more prepared food is purchased in environments which lack adequate health and safety regulations. Education programs about food and nutrition have tended to blame poor food practices on ignorance, and given instructions without taking resource constraints into account. Such efforts failed to provide relevant and timely information to empower consumers to make informed choices.


Strategic issues to address food security challenges:  

1. Agriculture and land reform Optimising the contribution of the agricultural sector to economic empowerment of vulnerable groups.  

2. Food Trade Maintaining regional and national food security in the face of rising demand for food in a competitive global market. 

3. Income enhancement and diversification Enhancing the incomes and income generating capacity of vulnerable groups in urban and rural areas. 

4. Social security and welfare services Ensuring access by eligible individuals to social security, welfare services and targeted benefits. 

5. Disaster mitigation Protecting livelihoods during period of stress. 

6. Food consumption and nutrition Promoting nutritious diets and a safe food supply. 

4.1 Agriculture and land reform

Objective: Optimising the contribution of the agricultural sector to economic empowerment of vulnerable groups.


Proposals on agriculture and land reform: 

  • Promote public investment in infrastructure, health, education, research & technology, and information within rural development framework. 

  • Harmonise agricultural development and land reform policies and strengthen links among support services.  

  • Develop a sustainable long term production policy.  

  • Make special provisions to ensure access to support services (credit, input supply, technology, marketing) by resource-poor farmers11

  • Promote participation of farmers' organisations in food security policy.


4.1.1 Introduction

The role of agriculture in household food security is three-fold: to provide food directly (subsistence), generate income (through commercialisation) and create jobs. Agricultural policies can contribute to food security by creating an enabling environment for increased production of affordable food, creating opportunities for entry into commercialised agriculture by previously disadvantaged farmers12, improving the productivity of all farmers, reducing post-harvest losses and facilitating value adding.

The agricultural sector stimulates major income and employment linkages throughout the economy. Agricultural performance has a positive impact on income distribution because the people employed through forward and backward linkages induced by agriculture are mostly in the lower income groups (in agribusiness, transportation, farm labour, rural construction, etc.). In turn these groups spend their earnings on food and locally produced goods and other consumables. The agricultural sector therefore has the potential to stimulate growth with equity.

Despite current and past negative trends in agricultural employment, prospects for increased employment in agriculture are high. The continued high interest rates and reduction of tax subsidies could encourage farmers to be less capital intensive than they have been in the past. High quality requirements for agricultural commodities in the international market (fruit, vegetable, etc.) will also require labour intensive practices. This should expand the number of jobs available in the agricultural sector, and if skills development initiatives enable new labour market entrants and unemployed people to take up such jobs, food security will be improved.

Compared to other sectors such as mining, agriculture is considered relatively easy to enter and to exit, given relatively low establishment and running costs. It can be a prime mover in the development of rural areas through linkages to input supply, processing and distribution activities, and expanding employment opportunities. The commercialisation of small-scale farming has progressed more slowly than anticipated, but it is expected to accelerate as farmers become established through the land reform process.

So far, the rate of delivery of land has been slow. In addition, there is a growing recognition
in the Department of Land Affairs that the provision of land in isolation does not go far enough in transforming the economic prospects of poverty stricken rural South Africans. Land reform therefore needs to be linked with other farmer support services, including access to water, financial services and markets. New, innovative equity models, outgrower schemes and contract farming, linking these farmers to agribusiness, should also be promoted through innovative collaboration between the public and private sector.

Tenure reform is an additional aspect of the land reform programme that may have beneficial consequences for food security. By providing people with more secure and more clearly defined titles to land, tenure reform can enhance people's ability to use their land as an asset to gain access to other support such as credit, and equipment.

The provision of public goods, such as infrastructure, information, research and extension and technology development to the benefit of farmers and rural dwellers should be strengthened.

4.1.2 Policy Proposals

Public investment should concentrate on public goods, including productive infrastructure, health services and education, in a rural development framework, as well as services such as information on production; and markets, research, extension and technology development in support of all farmers and farmer organisations. This will crowd in private sector investment in agricultural production.

Develop a long term domestic production policy to sustain economically viable farm capacity through the development and introduction of appropriate, environmentally sound and cost effective technologies and support services that provide incentives for farmers to produce and sell food more cheaply without direct price support or unfair protection.

Land redistribution and agriculture policies should be harmonised, and comprehensive services, including sustainable land use planning and productive support services, provided.

Policies and strategies on support services should include specific provisions to ensure access by resource poor farmers. Innovative models linking farm production to value adding commercial activities should be promoted through incentives and support systems. In particular, the reform of rural financial services, research and marketing services should be monitored to ensure access by deficit producers13.

Farmers' organisation should be encouraged to participate in the setting of policy agendas, support programmes, and research programmes aimed at achieving food security.

A national study should be undertaken to assess the potential contribution of agriculture to food security.

The government should consider medium term subsidisation of production activities of the food insecure groups. The impact of such subsidy should be assessed frequently so that it can be phased out as beneficiaries graduate.

4.2 Food trade

Objective: Maintaining regional and national food security in the face of rising demand for food in a competitive global market.


Trade policy proposals: 

  • Export promotion 

  • Trade with development in the SADC region 

  • Protecting producers from unfair trade 

  • Evaluating possible impact of liberalisation on food security 

  • Reviewing the policy on strategic stock, the possible role of food import insurance and futures market.

4.2.1 Introduction

Following the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of GATT, countries committed themselves to gradually reduce tariff levels. These changes activated increased global competition and export opportunities. The increasing global competition is complex in nature, inter alia due to external farm / export subsidisation in many countries of the world (e.g. the EU). The World Trade Organisation manages inter-dumping measures. However, unfair competition could damage local production capacity and create problems for sustainable food supply. A declining local currency could also impact negatively on cheap food imports. Trade policies should thus be harmonised with domestic production policies. Export opportunities are emerging, especially in the horticultural sector, and these should continue to expand as South Africa makes progress in improving market access, on favourable conditions, in the USA, the EU, in neighbouring states and in new markets, especially in the Asian world. These processes will promote agricultural development and job creation in the sector.

As a member of SADC, South Africa has committed itself to food security in the region. This is to be achieved through the development of regional farm technology and regional trade, co-ordination of infra-structural development (transport, storage and processing). Presently several constraints exist in distribution and trading in commodities that would
ensure food security. Transport and communications, customs procedures and documentation still militate against a policy of liberalised trade.

Countries in the SADC region adopted the strategy of import substitution, though not as early as South Africa. This implies that one faces a region with complicated rules of export and import. Although a Trade Protocol has been signed, indicating that by the year 2004, SADC could be a Free Trade Area, many questions still remain unresolved. Even the modalities of implementing the protocol have not yet been agreed upon. Trade infrastructure is still underdeveloped for a Free Trade Area by 2004. Importation from the region assumes that the non-tariff barriers regarding grain have been removed.

The issue of whether or not South Africa should keep strategic stock is far from being settled. There is an argument which says that as long as South Africa's balance of payments and foreign reserves are in order, there is no need to keep strategic stock. In this regard, South Africa would import when short falls arise. On the other hand, there is also an argument that food stock reserves should be kept to ensure food availability for a minimum of 3 months (10%). This would create a sense of security among citizens, thus maintaining an environment conducive to investment and market participation. Furthermore, given that South Africa has been food self-sufficient, its ports are not designed to handle large quantities of food imports, keeping a strategic food stock reserves may be a prudent policy.

4.2.2 Policy proposals

Export promotion is presumed to replace import substitution, which is no longer relevant within a liberalised trade environment. The strategy is also in line with trade and development objectives and can give opportunities to emerging farmers

For food security to prevail in the Region, food trade should be exercised together with development initiatives. Such initiative must address physical infrastructure (roads & transport), institutional reform (custom administration), human resources, as well as capital investment (value-adding projects and agricultural initiatives).

South Africa should take advantage of liberalised trade since its producers are likely to be more efficient due to competition with international producers. However, South Africa should be prepared to protect producers when faced with unfair trade practices. The country should guard against dumping, and not rely only on mechanisms provided by the World Trade Organisation.

There is a need to monitor the impact of the policy shift from a protected trade regime
to a liberalised trade regime on food security at the household level, in terms of the distribution of income gains and losses and food price fluctuations.

A study should be conducted to assess the social, economic and political consequences of various options on strategic stocks, food import insurance, as well as the role of futures market. This should be conducted within a framework of a balanced trade / domestic farm production strategy to ensure the availability of affordable food for all in South Africa and the region.

4.3 Income enhancement and diversification

Objective: Enhancing incomes and income-generating capacity of vulnerable groups in urban and rural areas.


Options to promote income diversification: 
  • Ensure access to financial and other services for micro- and small enterprises (including farming). 

  • Review impact of community development initiatives on income generation and capacity development. 

  • Support the provision of basic infrastructure in rural and urban areas, to enhance income generation. 

  • Maintain public works programs, and improve involvement of women. 

  • Promote linkages between primary and secondary sectors.

4.3.1 Introduction

Given the diverse livelihood strategies of vulnerable households, enhancing non-agricultural employment and income generation is an important strategy to achieve food security at the household and individual level in both urban and rural areas. Increasing employment and improving the remuneration and working conditions of those in formal employment are key objectives of the GEAR strategy and employment policies. These must continue to receive attention at the highest level. Equally important from a food security perspective is the need to enhance people's capacity to generate income and to strengthen the existing livelihood strategies of the poor.

Relevant policies and strategies include those dealing with improving the quality of health and education services, and increasing access to such services by the poor. In addition, entrepreneurial development policies, community development and public works programmes are relevant. The important linkages between farming and rural enterprise should not be underestimated. Diverse forms of farming should be viewed as an important generator of rural diversification.

Despite efforts by the newly established support structures, Khula and Ntsika, to increase public sector support for emerging groups within small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), there is still little evidence that the poorest groups benefit from the subsidies allocated. Considerable micro-level research in South Africa's rural and urban areas is necessary to inform policy makers about the needs of survivalist enterprises and to ensure that lending methodologies are developed that cater for the very particular needs of these groups. International experience indicates that easily accessible savings facilities, or access to small loans on short notice can assist people to smooth their consumption, and as such can be more empowering than unreliable access to cheap money, including sporadic welfare payments.

Community development approaches are employed by a range of sectors as a strategy to combat poverty through linking capacity building and economic empowerment. The White Paper on Social Welfare, for example, advocates for developmental social welfare, which stresses empowering individuals and groups towards attaining self-reliance. Departments of Health, through the Community Based Nutrition Programme, and Agriculture, through the activities of community extension officers are also involved in community development and income generating projects, often with explicit nutrition and food security aims. Non-governmental organisations play a key role in community self-help initiatives. While there are notable success stories, many initiatives fail to contribute to sustainable poverty eradication, due to a lack of attention to economic viability. Such projects may fulfil important social functions, but do not lead to economic independence for the participants. Initiatives are presently poorly targeted, fragmented, and insufficiently integrated with other development programmes including SMME initiatives, infrastructure provision, and health and education activities.

Access to basic infrastructural services, particularly water and energy, has also been shown to contribute to poor people's ability to generate income, primarily through the effects on labour time and health benefits. To achieve maximum benefit from these strategies, they need to be part of an integrated approach. For example, electricity provision in rural areas can enhance the performance of SMMEs, but more so if it is accompanied by complementary services such as market information, access to credit and savings facilities and business training.

International and local experience shows that public works programmes can provide vital assistance to food insecure people in rural and urban areas by providing much-needed income, training and necessary infrastructure. Labour intensive public works programmes have been pursued in South Africa as a way to address both the provision of infrastructure and widespread unemployment in rural areas. Recent evaluations of the Community Based Public Works Programme indicate that it has been relatively well-targeted, employing predominantly Africans and a high proportion of women, and reaches the poor in rural areas.

4.3.2 Policy Proposals

Policies to support SMMEs should include specific measures to ensure that women and men in the survivalist sector gain access to financial services, information and markets and that women receive training in non-traditional skills. Measures should take account of women's environmental constraints (such as lack of child care facilities and transport infrastructure), and safety and security issues, and should provide an environment conducive to the development of strong organisations among women.

Local economic development strategies should be strengthened through procurement policies in favour of SMMEs, particularly those in the survivalist sector. More attention should be given to identifying niche markets for SMME development in rural areas.

A thorough review of the impact of all major governmental community development initiatives on the economic empowerment of the poor should be undertaken, with particular attention to targeting and co-ordination among different sectors.

The provision of basic infrastructure services should be integrated with local economic development strategies to ensure sustainability.

The redistributive impact of infrastructure investment will be greatly enhanced if a larger percentage of the amount spent goes towards small contractors, either in the construction phase or in the provision of inputs.

Public works programmes should be maintained as a key measure to address unemployment, and specific attention given to increase the involvement of women by providing training and childcare.

There is a need to promote the creation of linkages between primary economic activities such as farming, mining and forestry, and value-adding non-primary activities.

4.4 Social security and welfare services

Objective: Ensuring access by eligible individuals to social security, welfare services and targeted benefits


Proposals include:  

  • Maintain budget allocations to welfare and social security at current levels, and improve efficiency and targeting. 

  • Implement community based nutrition strategy with adequate transition measures from direct food assistance, where those are currently in place. 

  • Investigate targeted subsidies on selected food items (e.g. yellow maize and grain sorghum) 

  • Evaluate implications of phasing out zero-rating on certain food items and using savings for targeted programs.

4.4.1 Introduction

While economic empowerment is central to achieve food security on a sustainable basis, it is recognised that there are households and individuals who will continue to need direct assistance to meet their basic needs. It has been estimated that of the approximately 16 million poorest South Africans, nearly one third, or five million people, live in households which receive at least one pension, and the pensions make up a very significant proportion of total household income. Pensions, particularly the Old Age Pension, are well targeted to the poor and are a reliable source of household income which is used for basics such as food, health, education and to finance micro-enterprise activities. Pensions reach the poor in rural areas, and benefit women and children in particular.

Food assistance, in the form of food supplementation programmes, food subsidies, or food coupons or stamps are other examples of direct support to achieve food security. Such programmes have different objectives. For example, some are implemented to address overt malnutrition particularly among young children, while in other cases they aim to improve household or individual access to food, particularly in emergency situations. Some focus on improving children's learning capacity (as in school feeding programs). International experience indicates that such programs can have positive benefits, but are difficult to target and administer. Programs involving direct food provision, whether providing on site feeding or take home rations, are generally regarded as a temporary measure, unsustainable in the long run, and prone to create dependency. They are more readily abused by the non-poor, and often don't reach the poorest people. They are furthermore unlikely to be able to take the food preferences of local communities into account. Food coupons have the advantage that they improve purchasing power and give people a measure of choice; however, they are expensive to administer, open to fraud and corruption, and less likely to be accessible to rural people.

The current Nutrition Strategy in the National Health Policy focuses on a community based approach to combating malnutrition, with an emphasis on addressing the underlying causes of malnutrition and moving away from direct food assistance to more sustainable educational and productive activities. The inherited food assistance programmes, notably the Protein Energy Malnutrition Scheme, the National Nutrition and Social Development Programme, as well as the Primary School Nutrition Programme have to be refocused to fit in with the new vision.

Another type of food assistance is the zero-rating of VAT on basic foodstuffs. Currently some 19 foods are zero rated, at a cost of some R2.5 billion to the state. Recent assessments by the Katz Commission and others indicate that zero-rating of maize products is well-targeted to the poor, but that the benefits from exempting other foods are disproportionately appropriated by the less poor. It is argued that the additional revenue generated by re-instating VAT on these foods could be better used in targeted poverty relief programs.

4.4.2 Policy Proposals

Given the proven contribution of social security and welfare services to poverty alleviation, current levels of budgetary allocations to welfare should be maintained during the period of economic restructuring. Efforts underway to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of services should continue, including measures to improve community organisation and access to information, intersectoral collaboration and targeting.

The transformation of food assistance programmes to community based nutrition projects should be pursued vigorously, but care should be taken to minimise the negative impact on vulnerable households and individuals. In peri-urban areas, consideration should be given to supporting community-based initiatives to provide on-site feeding, such as soup kitchens and crèche feeding.

Conduct an investigation on the feasibility of a food coupon system to replace food provision in the Health Facility Based nutrition programme.

Consideration should be given to possibilities of subsidising "inferior" food items such as grain sorghum and yellow maize to cushion the effect of severe food price increases (e.g. due to crop failure or economic downturn) for the poorest people, without undue interference in the grain market. Currently grain sorghum and yellow maize are regarded as inferior food items (although nutritionally of higher quality than white maize), and therefore unlikely to be purchased by less poor households. This makes targeting of the subsidy easier, and will reduce the effect of the subsidy on the market.

Conduct an analysis of the economic implications of phasing out zero-rating of a selected number of basic foods over time.

Initiate a process of public consultation on poverty relief measures, in which the possibility of phasing out of zero-rating on certain foods, and widening the target group of the child support grant, among other targeted support measures, could be debated.

4.5 Disaster mitigation

Objective: To protect the livelihoods of vulnerable groups during periods of stress


Proposals to mitigate disaster: 

  • Promote sustainable production practices to reduce vulnerability 

  • Scale up public works programs and targeted assistance during stressful periods. 

  • Develop drought resistance technologies and promote drought resilient crops.

4.5.1 Introduction

Strategies to reduce vulnerability to drought and other disasters should be based on a sound understanding of rural livelihoods and coping strategies, since the impact of a disaster is determined by the underlying vulnerability to such threats. Rural households depend for a large portion of their consumption on income and transfers. However, the most vulnerable people in rural areas are those who rely most heavily on agriculture for their livelihood, by producing for themselves and working for others. These livelihood strategies fail when there are frequent natural disasters, leading to heightened vulnerability. In drought prone areas, consideration could be given to research and extension on the production, processing and storage of drought resilient grains such as grain sorghum and millet.

4.5.2 Policy proposals

4.6 Food consumption and nutrition

Objective: Ensuring nutritious diets and a safe food supply


Proposals to ensure nutritious dietary choices and a safe food supply: 

  • Improve access to relevant scientific information about food and nutrition 

  • Provide empowering community-based nutrition education.

  • Enforce legislation to protect health, nutrition, and food safety. 

  • Institute hazardous waste monitoring systems.

4.6.1 Introduction

Food, or the means to obtain it, may be available in the households, but individuals, particularly children, may still be vulnerable to food insecurity and malnutrition. Decisions about food processing and storage, selection, preparation and consumption determine what is eaten, and by whom. Such decision-making processes are influenced by social and cultural factors, as well as by the economic and human resources available to the households. Women play a key role in food-related activities, but often have little decision-making authority and control over resources required to feed the family, and face severe time constraints, due to other responsibilities. Objective and unbiased information about food and nutrition has not been readily available to the public in languages and formats that are easily understood. Much of the education that has been provided to improve food practices and nutrition has been overly prescriptive, and irrelevant to prevailing living conditions of the majority of people vulnerable to food insecurity.

At the community level, the health status of consumers may be at risk due to exposure to health threatening situations such as dumps, street food prepared and stored under unhygienic conditions, and a lack of enforcement of basic sanitation standards.

4.6.2 Policy proposals



5.1 Introduction

One of the fundamental problems standing in the way of targeting and effective delivery of food security initiatives is the lack of institutional capacity in poor areas. This is particularly the case in rural areas, where a lack of representation, a lack of training and a lack of institutions make it very difficult for poor people to put their interests forward, to find out about available resources, or to interact fully with service providers. Lack of institutional capacity and insufficient co-ordination make it difficult for government structures, NGOs and the private sector to channel their interventions towards the most needy, and to monitor the effects of their interventions.

5.2 Recommendations on institutional reform

Institutional Reform for food security should include:

5.2.1 Enhancing Co-ordination on Food Security Programs

5.2.2 Building Capacity to manage food security options

5.3 Recommendations on information management

To implement food security policies and to develop new policies, considerable information is required on the situation of food supply and demand in different parts of the country. This information can be used to identify risk areas, with respect to food access and use.

5.3.1 Food Security Monitoring Systems

5.3.2 Provide incentives for information sharing

5.4 Recommendations on science and technology

5.4.1 Introduce Technology for Value Adding

5.4.2 Biotechnological Research

5.4.3 Information Technology

Annexure A-1 : Members of food security working group

Ms. Bongi Njobe-Mbuli (ex-chairperson) Department of Agriculture

Ms. Nobayeni Dladla (chairperson) Department of Health

Mna. Bigman Maloa (Convenor) Department of Agriculture

Mna. Timothy Thobane (Secretariat) "

Ms. Mangi Ramabenyane (Secretariat) "

Ms. M. Graham (Secretariat) "

Mr. Barry Napier (Secretariat) "

Prof Johan van Rooyen University of Pretoria

Ms. Vangi Titi EDA / Gauteng Department of Agriculture

Dr. Petro Terblanche CSIR

Dr. Trish Hanekom Gauteng Legislature / Gauteng Department of Agriculture

Mr. Willie Lubbe / Mr. Patric Krappie DTI

Ms. Franca Ferreira Vista University

Mna. Moraka Makhura (Drafting Team) Northern Province Dept. Agric / University of Pretoria

Dr. Milla Mclachlan (Drafting Team) DBSA

Dr. Patric Ncube (Drafting Team) Donsi Consultants

Annexure A-2: Commissioned technical papers on food security in South Africa

The Food Security Situation in South Africa J. May

Macro-availability of Food J. van Rooyen

Impact of Government Policies on Food Security S. Schirmer

Analysing Government Food Aid Programmes M.T.S. Mbatha

The Impact of Farmer Support Programmes on Food Security J. Kirsten

Food Marketing and Distribution Systems, Food Prices and Consumption Patterns B. Bayley

Household Food Insecurity and Vulnerability to Natural Disasters A. Holloway

Household Consumption: behaviour patterns, determining factors and policy options C. Julius

Annexure B.1: Comparison of GDP & social indicators of selected middle income countries








South Africa


GNP per capita US$ (1994)

2 410

2 410

2 760

2 800

2 970

3 040

3 480

Life expectancy








Infant mortality rate








Adult illiteracy rate








Total fertility rate








  Source: World Development Report 1996. Washington DC: World Bank.

Annexure B. 2: Values and rankings of HDI for South African provinces and selected countries

Selected countries, 1992

HDI Rank


Provinces of S.A., 1991

High human development


























Western Cape



Medium human development








South Africa

Sri Lanka



































Northern Cape





Free State




North-West Province


Eastern Cape

Low human development





















Northern Province



* The average of the HDIs of those countries falling in that particular category. Source:  CSS Statistical Release P0015, 8 May 1995.

1 Project for Statistics on Living Standards and Development (PSLSD). 1994. South African Rich and Poor: Baseline Household Statistics. South African Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU). Rondebosch.

2 WHO. 1995. Physical Status: The Use and Interpretation of Anthropometry. Report of a WHO Expert Committee. Geneva. World Health Organisation.

3 PSLSD, op cit., South African Vitamin A Consultative Group (SAVACG). 1995. Children aged 6 to 71 months in South Africa, 1994: Their anthropometric, vitamin A, iron and immunisation coverage status. Isando; RDP 1995. Key Indicators of Poverty in South Africa. Ministry in the Office of the President. Reconstruction and
Development Programme. Pretoria.

4 SAVACG, op cit.

5 The poverty gap refers to the amount that would be needed annually to wipe out poverty through a perfectly targeted transfer to the poor, and is thus and indicator of the depth of poverty. The total poverty gap was estimated at R28 billion in 1995 (May et al 1997).

6 Central Statistical Services, 1997. Preliminary Results, Census 1995.

7 May, J et al. 1997. Poverty and Inequality Report. First Draft.

8 May, J., Carter, M and Posel, D. 1995. The Composition and Persistence of Poverty in rural South Africa. LAPC: Johannesburg.

9 Van Rooyen, C.J.; Ngqangweni, S.; and Frost, D. 1996. Some Considerations for a South African Food Policy. Agrekon Vol 35, No 4 (Dec).

10 African Development Bank, 1993. Economic Integration in Southern Africa

11 Resource-poor farmers - those who cannot produce nor purchase sufficient food due to more than one associated constraints, such as lack of production resources.

12 Previously Disadvantaged Farmers - those farmers who were discriminated against by, and did not benefit from, past policies on agriculture.

13 Deficit Producers - Those households who do not produce enough to meet their consumption requirements, thus having to purchase food.

143 . The average of the HDIs of those countries falling in that particular category. Source: CSS Statistical Release P0015, 8 May 1995.