Saturday 21 March 2015

SA Food Sovereignty Campaign Statement on Human Rights Day

South African Food Sovereignty Campaign

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Statement on Human Rights Day 2015:
20 Years of Democracy and the Human Right to Food of at least 14 million South Africans Remains Unmet

Issued by the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign National Coordinating Committee

Section 27 of the South African Constitution states that all South Africans have the right to adequate food, and that the state should take adequate measures to ensure that this human right is met. But today as many as 14 million South Africans suffer from hunger. In addition, almost half of the population is food insecure. Only 46% of households have secure access to nutritious food every day – less than half of our population. While our Constitution remains a cause for celebration, this Human Rights Day, 21 March 2015, the material realities of unmet human rights in our country are no cause for celebration. The scandalous level of hunger is a stark reminder of the injustices of our society and the structural barriers that remain to realising the rights of our people that are embedded in the Constitution.

For us to take seriously the realities of hunger in South Africa and solutions, we have to interrogate the nature of our food system to understand why the Right to Food in South Africa remains unmet on such a vast scale. In essence, our food system is unjust, unsustainable, unsafe and contributes towards an unstable society. The food value chain in South Africa is tightly controlled by a small number of mainly corporate actors, whose aim is to profit off the production and processing of food. While some in South Africa access nutritious food from this system, many (up to half our population) either do not get enough food or when they do, are only able to access low-nutrient, high-fat and high-starch content food that the rationality of the food system presents as cheap and desirable. This results in malnutrition and the corrosion of human capacities, which is most dramatically illustrated by the fact that one in four children under the age of three years show signs of stunted physical growth and mental development due to chronic malnutrition. This affects mostly the children of poor, black families. We are therefore producing a stunted generation that simply will not reach their full human potential later in life, with significant social consequences.

As long as we have millions who suffer from hunger, we cannot say that we have fully realised democracy. Democracy should surely at least guarantee that a most basic right of accessing sufficient nutritious food is realised. And when this is not the case, when widespread hunger persists, we will continue to experience social instability. We cannot ignore the fact that in xenophobic attacks on spaza shops, food is what is most often targeted by looters, with ‘maize meal, bread, and cell phone airtime proving to be the favourites of the looters,’ as one researcher found. The undermining of the human right to food is thus tightly connected to the undermining of other rights, driven by desperation.

South Africa is thus experiencing a food crisis, from multiple angles. But this is poorly understood in our public discourse and mainstream media. For example, a recent article in the Business Times (8 March 2015), titled ‘Zuma stance may harvest a food crisis’, presents the view of Deloitte’s agribusiness head that a food crisis may be looming as a result of President Zuma’s State of the Nation pronouncements on restricting foreign land ownership. This immediately begs the question: whose crisis? If we talk about the crisis of the poor and hungry, there is no ‘looming’ crisis; the crisis has long been here, with 14 million South Africans suffering from hunger. Is this not a crisis? Or is it only a crisis when big business and commercial farmers are the issue? The landless have long experienced a crisis, unable to access land for producing food for their families and markets. Is it only a crisis when the wealthy are restricted to owning no more than 12 000 hectares, let alone the far smaller sizes that the landless desire? The article also talks about the crisis already being faced by commercial farmers in South Africa. But it is not just the farmers themselves that are in crisis. They are a reflection of a food system this is in crisis. The drought currently being experienced in parts of the Free State, North-west and KwaZulu-Natal illustrates a growing trend of weather patterns from climate change that will only intensify into the future. Agriculture and food production already is and will be one of the sectors most heavily impacted by climate change. But industrial agriculture is also one of the biggest contributors to climate change through carbon dioxide and methane emissions throughout the production and transportation process.

The basic assumption of the article is therefore that our food security may be negatively impacted some time in the future. But South Africa currently is far from food secure: we repeat, 14 million South Africans experience hunger on a daily basis. Our food security is not a stake, it is yet to be achieved, if at all, as long as we fail to shift our understandings of the causes of hunger and the solutions. The media has a key role to play in this, based on the voices and views that it chooses to present.

Instead, we urgently need to re-think our food system and whether a few thousand large commercial farmers, a liberalised agricultural sector, and a corporate-controlled and concentrated food value chain is our best answer for feeding this nation.  We need to imagine, articulate and build an alternative food system, one based on food sovereignty and the solidarity economy. Food sovereignty is about placing access to nutritious food as a key human right, and challenging and transforming structures of the food system and society as a basis for achieving that right. An alternative food system is possible, one based on localised production, social control over the means of production, land and agrarian reform and small scale farming, diversity, and ecological forms of production. The Right to Food can be met in South Africa, but we need to radically transform our food system, with human need and equality at its centre. We need to reproduce and build an alternative food culture based on healthy, nutritious and locally grounded principles. We need to build the solidarity economy as a way of feeding our communities and grounding the control of a new food system in democratic ways.

We therefore have solutions, and these are being fought for and built on a daily basis. The South African Food Sovereignty Campaign was recently launched at an Assembly with over 50 organisations present, to advance a programme of action that challenges the existing injustices of the food system and advances alternatives. This coincides with the daily struggles of the landless and the marginalised to challenge the existing food system, such as the Rural Women’s Assembly who will be launching a campaign ‘We want land for food’ on this Human Rights Day, 21 March. They will use the campaign to make the link between the right to food, land, women’s right and human rights and dignity. We pledge our solidarity to this campaign and to the rural women who are fighting for a better world. Women, who produce most of the world’s food and who are mostly responsible for ensuring that their families are fed, are at the centre of the struggle for food sovereignty.

The South African Food Sovereignty Campaign also pledges its solidarity and support to the weeklong campaign of localised actions being coordinated by the United Front(UF), the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the Right-to-Know (R2K) Campaign, Marikana Support Campaign, African Diaspora Forum (ADF) and Thembelihle Crisis Committee. We support its actions that are aimed at reclaiming our rights such as the freedom not to be detained without trial, freedom from all forms of violence, freedom from torture, freedom of expression, the right to human dignity, our rights to privacy and the right to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions.

Our struggles over these rights are bound together by the struggle for a better and more human society.


For more information and to be put in contact with members of the Coordinating Committee, contact: Andrew Bennie  072 278 4315 /

Friday 13 March 2015

Break The Food Chain to Build Our Humanity

This article was published as an opinion piece in the Mail and Guardian :

Food is essential to the human condition and, given its importance, food politics has shaped world history in dramatic ways. It was central to the shift from nomadic to settled societies 10 000 years ago, in the making of plantation slavery, ‘voyages of discovery’ for spices in the East, in remaking an antagonistic relationship with nature through industrial farming and in influencing revolutions from the French, Russian and to the more recent Arab Spring. We imperil society if we ignore food crises and politics.

Are service delivery protests ‘food riots’ in essence? Is the recent spate of unjustifiable xenophobic attacks a reflection of desperation by the hungry? In a country with 14 million people going to bed hungry, with 45.6% of the population  ‘food insecure’  and with a poor household spending 80% of its income on food, in a context of increasing food prices, hunger cannot be ignored in understanding these violent outbursts. The scale of hunger in South Africa makes us a dehumanized, deeply divided and conflict-prone society. It also exposes deep income inequalities and a cardinal failure of the mainly white controlled, export-led industrial food system. Yet these contradictions have been rendered non-antagonistic by our narratives of the ‘rainbow nation’, while hunger is certainly caused and is a precipitating factor of social conflict. Hunger may not be determining in every instance, but it certainly contributes. It has to be brought into our analyses of what’s going on in the growing number of flash points engulfing our society.

The current drought devastating South Africa’s maize production, while commonly understood as part of South Africa’s routine drought cycle, can no longer be understood outside of climate change shifts taking place through global warming. Extreme weather occurrences, a result of climate change, are already manifesting on the African continent with massive flooding taking place across a number of countries in 2012, and displacing 6 million in Nigeria alone. With Africa very likely to experience the worst impacts of climate change, arid and semi-arid land is expected to increase in coming years from 5-8% and water stress is predicted to impact on 75-250 million people by 2020. In Southern Africa there is very likely to be a loss of vast amounts of arable land as climate scientists expect an increase of temperatures at twice the global rate.  Basically, there is a correlation of extreme weather patterns and worsening farming output that has to be more seriously studied, as part of adapting South Africa’s agricultural system to climate change. For many a techno-fix like genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will deal with climate change. In 2014, 86% of maize under cultivation was GMO, yet this did not stop the current drought from having devastating impacts. The science of industrial farming is about simplifying what are complex natural processes to control nature. At the same time, industrial agriculture is one of the largest consumers of South Africa’s limited water supply. Climate change brings both complexity and resource challenges that globalized industrial agriculture will have difficulties dealing with. Hence the imperative for a new ecological approach to agricultural production that is more easily adaptable and grounded in values to sustain life.

Most of us take the food on our plates for granted. While we stuff ourselves we don’t consider that 1 in 3 children under the age of 5 are malnourished. We don’t ask deeper questions about the nutritional value of the food we consume, who produced it and where it comes from. Yet the food most of us are consuming is directly related to many pathologies in our society from growing obesity and other food related illnesses such as sugar diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes and heart disease. This is a result of nutritionally deficient diets. Cheap food has been marketed as ‘ fast, good and glamorous’. For many in our society, with low incomes, this choice is out of necessity. This makes the poor in our society victims of ‘food poisoning’ by design. For instance the Wits School of Public Health has evidence that a chicken drumstick sold by a leading fast food retailer has twice the amount of salt and calories and 3 times the amount of fat than the same drumstick in the United States.

This past week a set of scenarios dealing with the future of the South African food system were launched at WITS, by the Southern African Food Lab. These scenarios confirm the existence of  a broken food system and the need for new ways forward. While timely, these scenarios cannot avert a confrontation with South Africa’s corporate-controlled food system.  In the context of the unhinging political consensus that has shaped the transition to the post-apartheid order and the growing existential threat of climate change, the food crisis can potentially destroy South Africa or it can assist in redefining a new way forward. The food crisis married to authoritarian populist gestures like ‘land grabs’ , called for  by the EFF, will lead us head long into a race war. Moreover, it would not be any different from the ANC’s government’s failed land reform, which has raised expectations but has been thin on building sustainability.

An alternative approach to the food crisis is grounded in a transformative politics from below. This is being advanced at the grassroots in South Africa and is inspired by rising global movements championing food sovereignty. Food Sovereignty seeks to harness the potential of our democracy and is central in ensuring we create the conditions to survive climate change through a deep just transition. It is an alternative to the narrow notion of food security, which is inadequate to deal with the depth of the food crisis emanating from the corporate controlled food system and which makes greedy corporations the enablers of the right to food. With South Africa one of 20 countries in the world with a justiciable right to food in its constitution, this requires the enactment of a Food Sovereignty Act to realize the transformative potential of the constitution. This is a crucial demand of the newly formed South African Food Sovereignty Campaign (SAFSC) and alliance.

At its recent founding meeting the SAFSC has committed to focus, this year, on increasing food prices and land as part of agrarian transformation. South Africa has been experiencing escalating food prices and food inflation. Between 2006-2008, and 2010-2012 this was a global trend leading to food riots in different parts of the world. Given the globalized nature of corporate agriculture, including in South Africa, food prices are driven by multiple causal factors according to many food analysts, including the  Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). They suggest speculation on US commodities markets, climate change and oil prices are amongst these factors. The recent decline in oil prices raised the expectation of a downward adjustment in food prices, particularly staples like bread, but this has not happened. Despite the sophistication of these analytical models they are still merely symptomatic in understanding food pricing challenges and assume a globalized market-driven approach to prices as unquestionable, despite the volatility and instability inducing consequences of such markets.

If we reduce the food price challenge to its essentials, it is about the greed of food corporations and the absence of a regulatory role for the state to protect our common societal interest. South Africa’s escalating food price challenge can be curtailed if the state is brought back in to regulate food prices. The degree and mechanisms underpinning this intervention need to be debated in South Africa. At the same time, there are grassroots alternatives that are transparent and grounded in ethical values such as trust, transparency, environmental justice, democracy and community need. Buying cooperatives, community markets, cooperative bakeries and some farm stalls are all transformative alternatives dealing with pricing differently. These food sovereignty institutions have to be connected and replicated as part of the emerging solidarity economy in South Africa to ensure producers and consumers can control pricing.

Land in South Africa is imbued with various meanings but most salient is its place in history as a sign of dispossession of the majority. The frontier wars of dispossession, the infamous 1913 Land Act and subsequent laws are crucial markers in this painful history. The ANC state has failed dismally to address this historic injustice. From the standpoint of food sovereignty, land is central to how we understand life, food and culture. Hence, a peoples tribunal on land reform to expose the shortcomings of the ANC state and people’s land audits will be utilized to bring idle, unused and common spaces under cultivation  through agro-ecology, a farming practice that places sustaining life and ecological systems at the center of farming practices. Communities, but mainly women, protecting indigenous varieties of edible plants, managing seed banks for generations and defending healthy food cultures from going extinct will be celebrated as part of advancing food sovereignty.

In short, the mainly white corporate controlled food system in South Africa, from farm to plate, is maintaining a food system for the few, is in many ways toxic and is also in crisis. Food sovereignty is another way forward for South Africa as a critique of globalised industrial agriculture, as a rights based discourse and as an ecological alternative. The transformative just transition to survive climate change and bring out the best of our humanity has begun in South Africa, from below.

Author: Dr. Vishwas Satgar is a WITS academic and an activist. He was recently elected to the national coordinating committee of the newly formed SAFSC, which is an alliance of over 50 grassroots organisations and networks.

Advancing Food Sovereignty in South Africa

Declaration of the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign and Alliance

At a historic Food Sovereignty Assembly, from 28th February till 1st March 2015, over 50 organisations representing the hungry, the landless and the exploited of our country – involved in agrarian, water and land transformation, environmental justice, small scale farming, cooperatives, the solidarity economy movement, waste pickers, the unemployed and activists campaigning against increasing food prices – gathered in Johannesburg to plan the initiation of the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign and Alliance.

We came together at the Assembly through our shared understanding that we have a crisis-ridden corporate and globalised food system that is responsible for worsening social, health  and climate challenges, and which is coinciding with increasing state failure in relation to regulating our food regime and ensuring much needed agrarian transformation.

Moreover, the climate crisis is worsening, without any genuine solutions coming to the fore from the South African state, the corporate-controlled food system and the United Nations. Climate shocks are already impacting negatively on our food system with volatile food prices, droughts, heavy rainfall and flooding. This necessitates advancing food sovereignty, to ensure our food and water needs are not compromised and ordinary citizens have the means to meet food production and consumption needs on their terms in the midst of the climate crisis.
South Africa is also experiencing food riots often times linked to ‘service delivery protests’, 14 million citizens experiencing hunger, malnutrition, obesity, desperation by aspirant small scale farmers, claims for justice by the landless, increasing precarity of farmworkers, and restricted marine rights for small scale fishers. The Food Sovereignty Assembly affirmed the need to directly confront these challenges through a unifying national campaign. Such a struggle-driven national Food Sovereignty Campaign is unprecedented in the context of South Africa and has drawn inspiration from local food sovereignty practices and from the rising  international movements and alliances championing food sovereignty in different parts of the world, in particular La Via Campesina and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.

Our campaign seeks to unify struggles on the ground and progressive social forces to ensure food sovereignty is placed on the national agenda and is an alternative way forward for our food system.  We are not simply calling for technical solutions for households to access food as encapsulated in the government’s recently proposed Food Security and Nutrition Policy and Implementation Plan. We reject the latter and instead are calling for the deep transformation of our food system by breaking the control of food corporations, repositioning the state to realise the Constitutional right to food and as part of creating the conditions and space for the emergence of food sovereignty alternatives from below. In this context mass popular power is essential and hence we welcome the message of support from the NUMSA-led United Front.   

Attack The Failing Corporate Controlled Food System and Agrarian Structure

The campaign will challenge the current unjust, unsafe, and unsustainable food system that is dominant in South Africa.   We will be guided by a programme of action consisting of phases of rolling action to confront the key contradictions of our food system, namely rising food prices and corporate control, declining nutrition, increasing use of GMOs and corporate control of seeds, lack of land, water, and agrarian reform, destructiveness of industrial agriculture, labour exploitation on farms, and lack of finance for small scale farmers and cooperatives.
To build food sovereignty we need to (1) challenge the country’s unequal agrarian structure; (2) call for land audits at local, provincial and national levels; (3) secure land allocations for food sovereignty in villages, towns and cities;  (4) win society over to the idea of one farmer-one farm; (5) end the conversion of agricultural land to game farms for the rich; (6) call on churches that own large amounts of land to make it available to the landless (7) struggle against chiefs that stand in the way of land usage, distribution and food sovereignty; and, linked to this, (8) push for and affirm the rights of women to land, the people who produce most of the world’s food. 
We will address various demands to capital and the state and we will use our power in our communities, in our farming enterprises, cooperatives, in the streets, and through international solidarity.
We will:
·      use symbolic tactics such as public tribunals to spotlight corruption and unfairness in providing finance for small scale farmers and cooperatives, expose greed-driven food price increases and unhealthy food;
·      consider dumping rotten produce at government institutions to expose the rot and corruption in such institutions and the failure to address the needs of small scale farmers and community traders;
·      march against bread corporations, boycott GMO foods, unhealthy foods and corporate food retailers that persist in selling these foods;
·      promote occupation of idle and unused land for agroecological food production;
·      demand that 10% of GDP is spent on food sovereignty development;
·      demand that the media stop advertising unhealthy foods and show its commitment to healthy and nutritious food for South Africa;
·      demand consistent inspections and penalties for labour violations to  ensure decent working conditions for farmworkers.  
Advance  Food Sovereignty From Below
In response to the contradictions of the food system, as manifested in our widespread hunger, we have answers! We believe that small scale farmers, cooperatives, community markets, as part of the solidarity economy, can feed our people, and through the campaign we will promote and highlight practical examples of this. We will highlight and promote the building of seed banks and the defence of local seed systems to ensure that we as farmers and communities control our seed, and therefore life. Through our experiences we will show that agroecology rather than industrial agriculture can feed our communities and country, and nourish our environment. We will highlight, promote and celebrate existing agroecology production that is happening in the country, and conduct learning exchanges to these sites.

We will experiment with and develop alternative forms of finance that are controlled by small scale farmers and cooperatives themselves, including solidarity economy funds and localised saving schemes for productive investment in food sovereignty alternatives. We will champion farmworker rights and models of worker cooperatives in production and consumption to develop worker control in agriculture and the food system. We will uncover, revive and highlight traditional, indigenous and healthy nutrition alternatives that are grounded in local ecologies, cultural tastes, and diversity. A recipe book will be developed to promote these nutritious alternatives.

We will map and link small scale farmers, cooperatives and communities to bring about agrarian transformation and build critical mass. Social media like a food sovereignty app and the Food Sovereignty Campaign webpage will be utilised in this regard to mobilise societal support.

By mobilising local networks we will engage in popular awareness-raising about food sovereignty and the need for organisations and communities to publicly declare their commitments to food sovereignty. We will capture these declarations in a national directory and as part of an ongoing campaigning thrust to build food sovereignty spaces. We will harness community media, online social media, popular education resources, and face-to-face meetings for commitments to food sovereignty.
We will hold food sovereignty festivals to celebrate our local practices of seed sovereignty and preservation, indigenous plant varieties, arts, crafts and culture, local foods and produce from cooperatives, solidarity economy enterprises and small scale farmers. Such festivals will also serve as socialised markets, learning spaces, and communication tools in our society.
To affirm the Constitutional right to food in our society and to shift state power in favour of food sovereignty and to regulate capital, we will champion a Food Sovereignty Act that can control food prices, provide protections to small scale farmers and cooperatives, ensure a socialised market space in the national economy (through, for example, labelling food sovereignty products and proper nutrition labelling of all food ), create participatory mechanisms for food producers and consumers to shape the food sovereignty system, de-concentrate the agrarian structure of South Africa, ensure one farmer one farm, enforce nutrition standards, protect indigenous seeds, plant varieties and the free sharing of seed, and ensure South Africa becomes GMO free by banning GMOs. We will challenge the property clause to ensure access to land. In addition to the Act, we will pursue the implementation of local government regulations and policies to promote the development of food sovereignty. To achieve this we will research international experiences, draft and champion these instruments from below.

We will champion disciplined and commonly agreed actions that coincide with:
·      Human Rights Day: 21 March
·      International Children’s Day : 1 June
·      Passing of the infamous 1913 Land Act: 19th June
·      International Food Day: 16th October

Coordinating Committee and Alliance

The FSA elected a representative coordinating committee from the various sectors championing food sovereignty. This committee will coordinate the campaign, facilitate grassroots-driven actions, build capacity and communicate the message of the campaign. The coordinating committee will work in accordance with the principles agreed to at the Assembly and in a manner that builds the Alliance across the country, in various sectors and in communities in a bottom up and democratic manner.

We give a mandate to the coordinating committee to develop and finalise the programme of actions for the priority campaign themes for 2015, namely high food prices and lack of land and agrarian reform, with input from grassroots Alliance partners.

Issued by the Food Sovereignty Campaign Coordination Committee:

Likeleli Motete
Imraahn Mukaddam
Anique van der Vlugt
Davine Cloete
Boyce Tom
Patrick Tshikana
Thami Dlamini
Matthews Hlabane
Karen Read
Nomsa Selebano
Vishwas Satgar
Jacklyn Cock
Thobeka Finca
Mandla Mndebele

If the media would like to arrange an interview or further communication, please contact Andrew Bennie 072 278 4315 /