The proposed R500 billion stimulus package, which President Cyril Ramaphosa announced last month, intends to lessen the financial impact of Covid-19 while bolstering our economy and making it more resilient to future crises.
Small-scale and subsistence farmers, an often-forgotten group despite comprising 2.5 million individuals, are among the emergency relief beneficiaries. According to the policy Brief 55 by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies of the University of the Western Cape, the growers have suffered tremendously, more so than their large commercial counterparts.
Closing fresh produce markets and the initial curtailing of street vendors have been described as culprits. Most small-scale producers are locked out of the supermarket supply chains.
The problems are hurting their customers too, especially poor rural and urban communities who do not have the physical or financial access to mainstream food supplies. This is a contributing factor to our rising hunger problem.
Last week, Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza announced that small-holder agriculturalists would get R1.2bn in relief. Of that amount, the government has allocated R500 million to about 15000 applicants, just under a third of those who applied for help (55000). The one-off grant will vary in value from operation to operation, but will not exceed R50000.
The government has done a good job to ensure formal food networks, supply chain values and food trade are not severely disrupted. However, the measures are more of a benefit to commercial agriculturalists than small-scale producers. For decades, the government’s policies have been biased towards large-scale commercial agriculture, at the expense of small-scale producers and rural communities.
If the government is taking the plight of small-scale farmers as seriously as it says it is, writing out relief cheques should be the first step of a multistakeholder strategy to helping them build and strengthen their businesses, farm more food, improve market access, and feed more people. Efforts should also be made to ensure fairer market conditions. Additionally, addressing land inequalities and the need to fast-track land redistribution in a manner that benefits women should receive serious attention.
The policy and financial investment in small-scale producers as a critical component of the food system will also create more jobs where they are needed the most, namely in rural areas, while developing rural economies and lowering people’s reliance on social grants. Investing sustainably and meaningfully in small-holder farmers will save the government millions, perhaps billions a year, which can be invested in solving other social problems, of which we have many. It is a win-win-win strategy.
Author: Stanslaus Muyebe