Local government must step in or withdraw if it continues to be unwilling or unable to put in place the support and infrastructure necessary to allow localized food systems to function. Professor Ruth Hall of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) at the University of the Western Cape makes it clear:
“We need to ask ourselves if we have a state capable of coherently planning and implementing policy that will change the food system in favor of the poor. If we don’t, the least they can do is pull out, stop the harassment of street vendors, and make basic space, land and infrastructure available so people can trade and lead their own development.
room Thursday presented the first results of a year-long research project led by Plaas that examined the impact of Covid-19 responses on political economies and food systems in South Africa, Tanzania and Ghana.
In South Africa, the focus areas were the product markets in Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg and the fisheries sector on the west coast. The project also took into account the impacts of the looting and unrest in July in KZN and Gauteng.
The report is ultimately researchers’ call on authorities and society at large to pay more attention to a massive and vital informal food system that is under pressure. It remains neglected and unsupported even though it plays a role in creating large numbers of informal jobs and ensuring food security and access to food for many low-income households. This is also boxed, Hall said, against the current trend which has seen food inflation overtake general CPI inflation since the March 2020 lockdown period.
“We don’t see the gap closing, so that tells us that food prices are presenting a crisis for consumers. These rising costs that have been passed on to consumers do not necessarily support small farmers and fishermen, who are being squeezed out. Meanwhile, companies like Tiger Brands and Shoprite both reported pretty impressive earnings per share.
“We mainly see the inflation differential coming from the fact that supermarkets are passing these rising input costs on to consumers and small traders,” she said.
The researchers identified this pressure on small traders as resulting not only from the loss of their markets, or the loss of their supply, but “partly because of the way in which the local government regulated the trading space”.
There is also sometimes blatant discrimination and bullying against traders of small products. Hall pointed out how, for example, soldiers were deployed to control queues and crowds outside large supermarkets during the first lockdown, as Johannesburg Metro Police posted, on their own Twitter accounts. , photos of fruits and vegetables confiscated from street traders. This continues to take place, even during lower lockout levels.
“We have, in the regulations themselves and in the way they are enforced at the local government level, clear discrimination in the treatment of people in different parts of the food system,” Hall said.
Researchers call for the formation of safe public food markets where there is high foot traffic, with adequate infrastructure and facilities such as toilets and water. In the case of fishing, refrigeration facilities are required for the safe cleaning, processing and handling of fish.
“In post-crisis [Covid-19 hard lockdown and the July unrest] recovery, we must rebuild, but rebuild differently. We need to ask ourselves who automatically obtains the licenses to rebuild and how planning processes integrate informal traders and food system actors. We need to have conversations with the different traders associations that are being ignored, ”she said.
Other recommendations call for an end to the harassment of street vendors and the confiscation of their products, as well as a review of the flaws in the permit system for street vendors.
There is a new call to ensure that the price controls of 10 essential food items approved as part of the Covid-19 disaster management are enforced and that the food items constitute a more realistic basket of items tracked for the food inflation. Researchers also want to speed up access to land for agricultural production and related trades.
There is an urgent need for these recommendations to inform discussions and policies now, because, according to Hall, new pandemics are inevitable, as are new crises.
The results also show the consequences of a militarized lockdown: uneven application of rules and regulations and the failure of slow and strategically inadequate responses.
The collection of ‘food diary stories’ and researchers’ interviews shed light on the deep and widespread impact on households and communities as small businesses were decimated during the months of hard closure.
Researchers noted an imbalance in, and access to, financial and emergency aid between formal and informal traders. While companies with financial and lobbying powers could lobby the government to ensure that large companies have better amortization, small traders were shut down.
Licensing of essential services “allowed large-scale and formal sector producers, traders and retailers to continue doing business, but it prevented street traders and bakkie traders from selling food. ; prevented fishermen from going to sea and selling their catch at fair prices; and blocked access to markets for small farmers, ”the researchers said.
Hall said when street trading was finally allowed during the lockdown, it was simply too late for many traders. “At that point, their products were rotten; they lost their capital and a lot of their customers too.
When government aid arrived, it was often too late and so also a lag. Hall spoke of a broiler farmer who lost all of his chickens and was unable to continue his business, but weeks later received government chicken feed. Researchers have raised questions about how the government decides which recipients are entitled to which relief.
Another impact has been the shutdown of school lunch programs during the lockdown. This affected many women farmers who provided food for the children’s meals.
Plaas coordinator Professor Moenieba Isaacs, interviewed after the presentation, said the impact of hard lockdowns “has an undeniable gendered face” as women suffered more job losses during Covid.
She said Covid had increased pressure on fishing communities to put price tags on every fish caught.
“This meant that there was no more food for the community and a higher risk of malnutrition in poor communities as the fish was sold to high-end restaurants. It also meant that the women who were employed to clean and process the fish lost those jobs. ”
Covid also meant women took on additional childcare and education burdens when schooling was suspended, Isaacs said. Women had to juggle tighter food budgets as many children who received at least one meal a day as part of school meal programs had to find an extra meal at home.
“Beyond politics, we need to look at this through the prism of political economy to understand why this is happening. Covid has just shown it more. We need to ask ourselves how the commercialization and corporatization of food systems can continue to deprive the poorest people of food sources, ”she said. SM / MC