What Covid-19 Has Taught Us About Food Security

Farmer's Weekly|May 22 - 29, 2020

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What Covid-19 Has Taught Us About Food Security
The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasised the importance of agriculture in South Africa and across the continent because of the sector’s capacity to support economic growth, create and sustain jobs, and boost exports, writes Roux Wildenboer, head of agriculture at Absa Corporate and Investment Banking.
Roux Wildenboer

At a time when most industries will be reducing employment, it is hoped that agriculture will at least maintain employment in primary activities. Agriculture has kept its employment levels up because by nature it is a labour-intensive sector, employing nearly 900 000 people in South Africa directly. In fact, there are many agricultural industries, such as fruit exporters, that are currently increasing employment, albeit seasonal work.

Another reason that agriculture deserves recognition is that on a commercial level, it is a strong employment multiplier. This assists in alleviating poverty and even helps in the establishment of new businesses and investment.

Lessons from a crisis

It is well documented that food production and availability is strategically crucial to any country, but the coronavirus disease (COVID- 19) crisis has also shown the importance of being food-secure; that is, being able to produce the bulk of the country’s staple food requirements. What is key is not just the production of food, but the logistics and supply chain to make this food available at affordable prices throughout a population. In this regard, the role of the informal sector has recently been illuminated. There is a complex supply chain in the informal sector, the importance of which is becoming apparent. In this respect, future partnerships between formal producers/networks and the informal sector may become increasingly necessary.

Another lesson from the COVID-19 crisis is that food consumption patterns will most likely change in many African countries. Due to economic hardship, it is expected that expenditure will increasingly be aimed at basic foodstuffs, and more expensive food will, on aggregate, represent a smaller portion of the expenditure basket. This is not an economic benefit, of course, but a logical result of economic recession.

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May 22 - 29, 2020