Pick n Pay at Rosebank in Johannesburg. Picture: Freddy Mavunda
Pick n Pay at Rosebank in Johannesburg. Picture: Freddy Mavunda

The crucial agriculture and retail sectors have moved to assure the public that food security will not be an issue even in the dreaded event of a possible lockdown aimed at limiting Covid-19.

They said plans are being implemented to cushion the sectors from the rapidly spreading coronavirus to ensure a continuous supply of food.

This also comes in the wake of regulations gazetted on Wednesday on the pricing of crucial services and goods including toilet paper, hand sanitisers, surgical gloves, facial masks and rice, sugar, long-life milk, bottled water, cooking oils, wheat flour, and canned and frozen vegetables, among others.

In an attempt to reduce Covid-19’s transmission, governments around the world have been encouraging people to self-isolate and work from home, but this has led to bulk-buying of items such as toilet paper, dry foods and sanitisers.

David North, group executive for strategy and corporate affairs at Pick n Pay, told Business Day on Sunday that they have a plan to deal with the looming Covid-19 crisis.

“We have a very good contingency plan, with great local suppliers, a strong supply chain network, and effective measures to keep our stores hygienic, open for business and well-stocked with products,” said North.

“We have applied some individual limits on purchases of certain products in high demand. These are being revisited daily as more supplies come into our stores.”

With regards to a possible lock down, North said they do not want to speculate on what actions government might take and when they might take them.

“But rest assured we are preparing for every eventuality and know that our staff will be critical in ensuring our stores stay open and people can buy their groceries.”

Woolworths spokesperson Diane Peterson said they have seen “a marked increase in sales of certain products in store and online” and are working to meet the increase in demand.

“In order to ensure enough products for everyone, we have set a limit of five units per product per customer. We will continue to replenish our products regularly,” said Peterson.

“We would like to assure our customers that we are working with our suppliers to ensure consistent supply of our products so that everyone has access to the food and essentials they need. We would like to thank customers for their support in helping us help everybody.”

Africa’s largest food retailer, Shoprite, could not immediately be reached for comment. Business Day, however, has reported that Checkers’s new Sixty 60 delivery app is limiting its deliveries to shoppers in northern Johannesburg and Cape Town to 30 items and three of the same item; and that due to increased demand for deliveries, the service is no longer able to deliver within 60 minutes.

On Sunday Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) CEO John Purchase said an industry task team working with agriculture minister Thoko Didiza has been established to look at Covid-19’s economic and social impact and communications around the disease.

Agbiz is an influential association of agribusinesses operating in SA and Southern Africa.

“We have gone live already. We are going to submit our work plans by Monday afternoon to government,” said Purchase.

The sector is also fully involved in initiatives driven by the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) on managing risks pertaining to food security and health care.

“A comprehensive plan is being developed by government and the private sector ... and food security is right at the centre of that,” said Purchase.

There is more than enough food available for South Africans and “we certainly don’t want panic buying because there is no reason to panic about food security in SA”.

Purchase said that in the event of a lockdown going for weeks or months the sector would “then have to reassess the situation”.

Omri van Zyl, CEO of commercial farmers’ organisation Agri SA, said: “We are a net exporter of food, so I don’t think food security is a concern. We are, by a wide margin, the most food secure country in Africa.”

The country, he said, has a well-developed retail system that ensures a continuous supply of quality foods to consumers.

The rapidly spreading coronavirus called on people to get their immune systems as strong as possible and for that “you need access to quality food”, including high Vitamin C foods as the winter season was approaching, when people are prone to get respiratory diseases. Covid-19 is known to attack the respiratory tract including the nose, throat and lungs.

But Vuyo Mahlati, president of African Farmers Association of SA (Afasa), which represents emerging farmers, said food insecurity was a real threat in the country.

She said Afasa was concerned about the impact a lockdown might have on the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and co-operatives regarding food availability and affordability.

“The point of departure is that at a household level, we are sitting with food insecurity in both rural and urban areas,” said Mahlati.

“The issue of food availability and affordability ... is a big issue that we are grappling with at the moment. Some of the available food in SA is being exported. There is not enough food ... there is food vulnerability and hunger in this country.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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