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Govt considers immediate relief measures as food prices soar

by Shaun Benton
on 05 Jun 2008
BuaNews Online
BuaNews Online

Government is considering immediate relief measures in the face of rising food prices, which are increasing not only in South Africa but globally.

This is according to Director General in the Department of Health, Thami Mseleku who was addressing the media on the Programme of Action of government's Social Security Cluster on Wednesday.

He said government may provide various supplements to the social grants already being provided.

Food security is now a key challenge facing not only the most vulnerable people in South Africa but people throughout the world, Mr Mseleku told reporters.

One way of diminishing food vulnerability is that of pricing, and government will be looking at extending zero VAT, already applicable to some staple items, on certain other foodstuffs not already on the list of zero VAT items, Mr Mseleku said.

In the meantime, a focus is being made on sustainable food production, and will be moving to encourage South Africans to take the issue seriously and in their "own hands" through, for example, developing private vegetable gardens.

While this might seem a simple solution, it is a practice more widespread in other countries and needs to be encouraged among rapidly urbanising South Africans.

Italy is one such country, where it is common to see retired workers and pensioners tending small gardens in municipality-provided allotments of land around most cities and villages.

Government will be starting a campaign to inculcate "a culture of agricultural production" or rather - given South Africa's historic dependence on agriculture, a "reculturisation" among various sectors of South African society, such as schools, where young people can tend to communal gardens, said Mr Mseleku.

The campaign will not only be rolled out in cities but will also seek to affect "rural behaviour", the health director-general said.

Adding to Mr Mseleku's remarks, the Director-General of Land Affairs, TT Gwanya, told reporters that the Department of Agriculture is implementing a campaign encouraging food production in each of the nine provinces.

Emerging farmers are to be a key focus, and government will be providing so-called "starter packs" which will include farm implements.

This will ensure they have the basic tools with which to go into the fields, Mr Gwanya said.

Cooperation is also central to making it work, and indeed the survival of the most vulnerable.

"The only way we can beat these food prices is to make sure we work together," the Mr Mseleku said.

While large commercial, usually white-owned farms are central to food production, Mr Gwanya pointed out that the contribution of South Africa's smaller farmers - including the so-called "emerging" group of those returning to the land - to the overall level of the country's food production is often underrated.

On the question of livestock, for instance, Mr Gwanya cited some interesting figures: 64 percent of the country's goats are herded by black farmers, 45 percent of the cattle belong in these communities, 20 percent of the pigs, 12 percent of the sheep.

The issue now is to build the "massification" of livestock farming and food processing, he said, adding that the agriculture "starter packs" being provided to poorer communities in each of the provinces was a beginning of this process.

To date, according to figures provided to reporters on Wednesday, 15 765 "production packages" have already been distributed in poorer communities around the country, and 6 390 vegetable gardens have been established.

About six million learners in about 18 000 schools have received meals in school-feeding programmes, and a proposal to encourage an awards system for the National School Nutrition Programme is being considered.

Meanwhile, there are 4 891 outstanding rural land claims, of which about 2 585 have been prioritised for settlement in this financial year. About 283 rural land claims have been settled in the past four months, while 144 of the rural claims are "facing community disputes".

About 254 land claims are being contested by current landowners on "the grounds of validity". - BuaNews

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