Foreign food aid policy?

The release of South Africa Statistics (Stats SA) Q2 GDP performance showed agriculture stellar performance avoiding contraction. Yet, for its neighbours Lesotho, e-Swatini and Zimbabwe, hunger during the pandemic bordered on depression.  

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) recently welcomed the contributions made by Japan of US$ 2.3 Million to Lesotho.

WFP said the funds will help strengthen food assistance to some “94,000 primary school and 60,000 pre-primary school learners, through the Government of Lesotho’s national school feeding programme.”

Besides Japan, Turkey was the latest country to add its mark in providing food aid relief to Lesotho.

Mehmet Akif Sekerci, programs coordinator of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) based in Pretoria, when in an interview with Anadolu Agency, slightly hinted that South Africa was abandoning its neighbours.

“We realized that the borders between South Africa and Lesotho are closed due to COVID-19 and Lesotho relies on South Africa for much of its economic activity. So, it was important for us to intervene and provide them with nutritious food parcels to help those struggling to make ends meet” he said.

Such interventions identified by Japan and Turkey suggested that RSA had no foreign food aid policy at all or completely abandoned its neighbourly responsibility.

Under former President Thabo Mbeki, the South African government played a dominant role in providing humanitarian food aid.

In 2005, the government reportedly spent R140 million, to help seven Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries with food. By 2015, Pretoria was at the forefront of supplying WFP with food aid, procuring from local commercial and smallholder farmers to aid Lesotho’s food shortage.  

Since then, Pretoria underwent a period of silence in its foreign food aid programme for its neighbours. The courtesy visit by the Lesotho Prime Minister the Right Honourable Dr Moeketsi Majoro on 12 June to Pretoria, was viewed by many as an extension to help Lesotho in its food security challenges.

Seemingly, Majoro’s message to Ramaphosa did not resonate. On the meeting of SADC Heads of State and Government Summit, Majoro reiterated his plight for the tiny kingdom to be assisted with food aid.

“Our food security has up to now depended disproportionally on food imports…..We have now taken a decision that Lesotho must produce a significant portion of its own food” he said.

The politics of food aid programs as any student in development studies would inform, is for any country providing food aid, the aim is to promote its food sovereignty and change trading patterns of that country.

Renowned development practitioner Anup Shah, put it mildly to say food aid was dumping. “Dumping food on to poorer nations (i.e. free, subsidized, or cheap food, below market prices) undercuts local farmers, who cannot compete and are driven out of jobs and into poverty.”

As neighbours, it was in the best interests of South Africa to procure produce from smallholder farmers, working with WFP and other agencies, to donate food.

The rise of First World countries taking interest and stepping in to supply food aid to RSA’s neighbours should be concerning for Pretoria.

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