Foodbanks system capable of unlocking market opportunities for new farmers

With over 700 000 hectares of state agricultural land already being advertised, the country can rest assured that food production capacity will definitely increase in the coming year or so.

This will undoubtably go a long way in fighting unemployment and poverty while ensuring food security.

During the commemoration of World Food Day in Bronkhorspruit earlier this month, Mzansi Agri Talk asked Minister Thoko Didiza and Gauteng MEC for the Department of Economic Development, Agriculture and Environment, Ms. Morakane Mosupyoe whether beneficiaries of the advertised land would be linked to the establishment of national food banks to ensure food sovereignty as a country.
The same strategy could be applied using small-scale farmers in their respective towns, provinces and regions to ensure that no produce ever goes to waste.

Food banks first emerged in the United States of America in the 1960s. John Van Henzel reportedly founded the first food bank “St. Mary’s Food Bank” with the support of a church, to provide short-term assistance to individuals and families with financial difficulties. Today’s food banks are usually set up by non-governmental organizations (NGO) to provide temporary food support to people with financial difficulties, through the collection, storage and distribution of surplus food donated by groups or individuals.
To date, food banks are still big in America with organisations such as Feeding America consisting of a nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs that provides food and services to people each year.

The Feeding America network of food banks receive and safely stores donated food and grocery products. Feeding America supports member food banks with training, oversight and equipment grants to ensure perishable and non-perishable food is handled and stored properly.
The Feeding America nationwide network of food banks also supports programs that improve food security among the people they serve; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Individuals, charities, businesses and government all have a role in ending hunger.
The New York Times reported in September that more and more Americans were turning to food banks due to the economic strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Currently, there are food banks in countries such as Canada and China. In Canada, it has been previously reported that 33 percent of Canadians live in a state of food insecurity, which means they do not have reliable access to adequate amounts of safe, good-quality, and nutritious food. Each month, over 850,000 people turn to food banks for help; more than one-third are children and youth. The people who visit food banks come from different backgrounds, including those whose low wages do not cover basic living essentials, individuals on social assistance, and Canadians living on a fixed income, and seniors and people with disabilities. Moreover, in Canada, because the rural population density is relatively low, it is more difficult for rural food banks to obtain funds, and operate sustainably. The biggest challenge in operating food banks in Canadian rural areas was found to be the problem of food transportation.

China introduced food banks in 2013. Hungry Cities Partnership reported that Shanghai’s Metro supermarket distributed food near to its shelf life to a nursing home, which is a prototype of a Chinese food bank. The completion of the Shanghai Oasis Food Bank in 2014 marked the beginning of the development of food banks in China. The report says up to now, Oasis Food Bank has helped 5,000 families, more than 10,000 people get food, and a total of more than 80 collaborative outlets are available to distribute food. In particular, according to the website of the Oasis Food Bank, in October 2016, “Shared Refrigerator” was piloted in some neighbourhoods in Shanghai. It adopts a “B-C” (Business to Clients) donation model. Supermarkets, restaurants and bakeries can regularly store safe food in the refrigerator for residents who need food. However, the number of Food Banks in China is still relatively small.

Furthermore, the report states that there are still 40 million poor people in China at present, many of whom are food insecure. The gap between urban and rural development is still significant. However, the food bank in Shanghai may be a prototype for an effective way to alleviate food insecurity of the poor in China and other countries.

During the Covi-19 lockdown regulations, the Gauteng government also demonstrated that food banks are actually a compliment to the food security system.

MEC Mosupyoe said the government of Gauteng has food banks in all five regions.

“We have always had the food banks in Gauteng and they played a very important role during covid-19 lockdown. We aggregated the farmers that we give support to for them to assist in stocking the food banks together with the department of social development,” said Mosupyoe.

Mosupyoe said there was a commitment from the department to continue this programme beyond Covid-19.

“We have in our plans about 70 farmers that we are in the process of commercialising…some of them are young while most of them are women…they are part of the programme that will continue to support our food banks with fresh produce…but because fresh produce have a limited lifespan, part of the programme is linked to the school food nutrition programme so that we don’t have a situation where fresh produce goes to waste.”

Mosupyoe said that the idea could work if rolled out to provinces.
To hone in more on the issue of food banks and their importance, Mzansi Agri Talk sought input from Chief Economist Dr. Sifiso Ntombela.
Dr. Ntombela said Food Bank is a concept that gained popularity in South Africa post 2008-food price hikes.

“They are essential in collecting and distributing food to vulnerable people who are unable to afford and access food. Foodbank also assist to forge private and public partnerships, where players from government and industries can donate or contribute food to the established food banks. The food bank concept can be instrumental in assisting the country to meet its Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG 1-No Poverty, SDG 2-Zero Hunger, SDG 10, Reduced Inequalities, SDG 12, Responsible and Consumption and Production and SDG 17- Partnerships for the Goals,” he said.

Dr Ntombela said that South Africa is a food net exporting country, implying food availability (production capacity) is not a major issue at an aggregate level, however, high level of inequalities constrains the country’s ability to ensure food access and affordability at the household level.

“It is estimated that 25.2% of the country’s population lives under food poverty line. Food banks can be an instrumental model to bridge food hunger at the household level and also encourage private-public partnerships in food production and distribution in poor urban and rural areas. Food banks can be upscaled in KwaZulu Natal, Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Free State and others. Interestingly, these are provinces with the highest level of poverty and unemployment, yet they have the largest track of high potential land that is underutilized, either owned by the state or traditional authorities.”

He said the recent announcement of 700 000 hectares that will be allocated to previously disadvantaged individuals by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development will increase the production capacity of small-scale farmers.

“The rapid land release coupled with producer support will ensure more produce is available which can also be linked to food banks and other social protection systems such as child school feeding schemes. These food distribution and protection system will unlock market opportunities for new farmers, who often struggle to access the formal retail and wholesale markets. The design, support and operations of food banks must benefit ordinary South Africans in order to ensure the country meets its commitments under Sustainable Development Goals,” said Dr. Ntombela.

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