By Adelene van Zyl
Source: Brian McKenna, 2020
The agricultural sector is sometimes forgotten in the South African economy since it only contributes approximately 3% to our GDP. However, in this time, the importance of agriculture is being amplified. Food shortages keep on increasing as citizens face retrenchment due to Covid-19 regulations. South Africans are dependent, now more than ever, on the agricultural sector to keep on providing food for a hungry nation.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said that the government currently tries to balance the Covid-19 spread and the food supply chain. Movement of food is still dangerous since it is labour intensive, however, human interaction must be limited to prevent the spread of the disease. Zweli also said that SASSA (South African Social Security Agency) is overburdened to provide food parcels in poor areas.
The agricultural sector is forced to keep on providing services, feed, food and commodities, while keeping their labour force clean and safe. Reidy (2020) stated that the demand for flour increased rapidly as consumers started stockpiling flour and other grain-based foods. Millers said that they are putting in all efforts to produce adequate flour, but they are concerned about border closures and lockdown regulations preventing them to transport flour to the necessary locations.
The biggest concern for the agricultural sector is currently logistics. This entails the labour force, human interactions, hygiene and movement of products through borders. Companies were forced to increase hygiene standards and precautionary measures, as well as to decrease the number of employees to limit human interaction. Economist Scott Irwin stated his concern for the virus contaminating food plants. Not only will this be difficult to measure, but it will spread the virus much faster than what the country can handle. Professor Gary Schnitkey said that this is only a matter of time until a food plant gets infected and that our concern should be on how it will be handled when it happens.
The grain and oilseeds trade body COCERAL, the vegetable oil and protein meal association FEDIOL and the European Compound Feed Manufacturers' Federation (FEFAC) issued a joint statement on 17 March 2020 regarding EU restrictions on agricultural commodities. They said that the risk for food shortages will increase if current restrictions persist, which might prevent the population to access regular food supplies. They also stated that they are taking all actions required to avoid disruptions in the food supply chains and to ensure that all parties will receive the raw agricultural products and ingredients they need. South Africa also has special regulations for the transport of agricultural products. You can read through these regulations and updates on GrainSA’s website: https://www.grainsa.co.za/pages/news--events/events/covid-19-updates.
South Africans can be assured that our agricultural sector will be able to produce enough food, however, necessary actions need to take place to improve the efficiency of the transportation of agricultural products. Any food commodity that can be supplied is extremely important now, however, the most important commodity during this time is flour. Milling operations has to keep on receiving wheat from farmers and deliver flour to bakeries for the production of bread, pasta and other grain-based products.
Reidy, S., Lyddon, C. & McKee, D., 2020. COVID-19 impacts agriculture from farm to fork. [Online]
Available at: https://www.world-grain.com/articles/13479-covid-19-impacts-agriculture-from-farm-to-fork
[Accessed 20 04 2020].