Farm workers’ ill-health and stress could threaten food security
Durban — Farm workers’ battles with lifestyle diseases‚ HIV/AIDS and substance abuse is likely to threaten SA’s food security.
A sickly workforce‚ according to Agility Corporate — which provides healthcare risk-management solutions to medical schemes — is likely to result in loss of productivity‚ adding to the many challenges South African farmers have to deal with‚ including drought‚ farm attacks and issues of land ownership.
"Our research in the agricultural sector shows that lifestyle diseases top the list of most-claimed-for conditions‚" said Lizette Bester‚ an Agility executive.
Diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are common among farm workers. "When it comes to risks impacting the workforce‚ there are a myriad of factors influencing agricultural operations’ efficiency in their contribution to food production," Bester said. "To make tangible‚ lasting progress‚ worker productivity needs to be assessed and addressed holistically."
Bester said the negative effect of stress‚ psychological trauma‚ substance abuse‚ financial worries and workers living with chronic illnesses were likely to worsen farm workers’ state of health.
AgriSA‚ a federation of agricultural organisations‚ said HIV/AIDS and related illnesses, as well as alcohol abuse among workers, remained "a big challenge" for farmers.
"Criminals attack farm workers in the hope of gaining access to farms and steal livestock or other valuable items, or rob them of their hard-earned wages and also inflict serious bodily harm‚" said Christo van der Rheede‚ AgriSA’s deputy executive officer.
"Workers that are absent due to illness not only bring about lower productivity‚ but also have a negative impact on job prospects and career growth. Of particular concern is substance abuse that has negative consequences for productivity‚ economic growth‚ health‚ a stable family life and rural safety," said Van der Rheede. "Many drug smugglers have now moved into rural areas and sell drugs to young farm workers and those dependent on government grants."
He said that to curb ill-health, many commercial farmers have introduced a range of interventions. "Huge investments are made on many commercial farms in terms of providing quality housing‚ healthcare‚ pre-schooling and sharing of educational development through continuous training and sharing of health information."