LETTER: ‘No doubt’ a food crisis is coming
The SA food system is part of the many ‘broken’ ones
I blame the ANC’s lack of political will and lack of leadership for the crises SA is currently experiencing. But, contrary to the popular view, I unequivocally give the governing party full marks for its neutral stance on the Ukraine debacle.
If the conflict in Ukraine persists, I am sure many South Africans will thank the ANC after the pending food crisis finally arrives. I have no doubt that it’s coming. Canadian economist Jennifer Clapp, research chair in global food security & sustainability in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo, calls the global food system a “house of cards”, including three hardly ever mentioned reasons.
One is the “concentration” of available global wheat, maize and rice suppliers under the control of just four big global agricultural commodity companies, which award-winning agricultural journalist Alan Guebert calls the “ABCD” of the food trade. That is ArcherDaniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfuss.
These are the firms that “hold large reserves of grain, but do not publicly report them.” Strangely enough, the vulnerabilities Clapp eloquently articulates are the same problems facing SA right now. That is, profitable efficiency rather than competition causes vulnerability.
For SA the vulnerability issue is even more worrying because “concentration” is within a tiny minority of both people and firms solely driven by narrow profit motives for their exclusive value chain membership and investors. Note my use of “tiny minority” and “exclusive membership”.
For confirmation one has to look no further than the former summer grain co-operatives. Before someone screams “bias and socialism” (I have no doubt someone will), they should take a moment to consider the people and companies that were behind the bread price fixing. Also, think back on apartheid’s dying days in 1993, when then agriculture minister Kraai van Niekerk gifted those co-operatives with R3.2bn for capital formation (disguised as drought relief).
In addition, remember how Land Bank was used exclusively to support white farmers. Lastly, who can forget how all that apartheid grain storage infrastructure was disposed of, while the ANC was still drunk with its newfound political power. All of these were part of the now discredited “biased socialism” for the few who were then directly connected to the apartheid government.
Clearly, when famine finally arrives Ukraine, it is least likely to prioritise supplying its wheat to SA. Not for any nefarious reasons, I should stress. There is already more money to be made from selling that grain to Eritrea, Democratic Republic of the Congo (I often wonder where the democracy is), Somalia and Madagascar.
As the Global Alliance on Improved Nutrition noted, “80% of Ukraine’s agricultural trade with Africa is predominantly wheat and maize”. Eritrea gets about 100% of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia, Somalia over 90%, DRC over 80%, and Madagascar over 70%. During famine, clearly there are more quick bucks to be made there than anywhere else.
Also, the few companies that control the SA commodity grain supply chains will most likely try to do what they do best: squeeze blood out of starving South Africans to generate higher profits. Because as Alan Guebert suggests, “broken systems raise costs far faster than resilient ones”. The SA food system is part of the many “broken” ones.
So, the governing party was spot on by leaving SA the freedom of choice among competing alternatives for when the proverbial excrement hits the fan in the not-so-distant future. For this it deserves credit. For once.
Mpumelelo Ncwadi, Madison, Wisconsin
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