Global Food Crisis

To Fight Food Prices, S. Africa Urges Return to Farming

Leon Marshall in Johannesburg, South Africa
for National Geographic News
July 7, 2008

Part eleven of a special series that explores the local faces of the world's worst food crisis in decades.

With the global food crisis forcing South Africa's poor to struggle to make ends meet, officials have put forward a novel solution: Resume the subsistence agriculture that used to be part of the area's heritage.

A significant portion of South Africans and the majority of the country's poorest people live in rural areas, finance minister Trevor Manuel said.

"Higher prices are a signal to plant," he told National Geographic News. "This is true for poor people in rural areas as it is for large-scale commercial farmers."

Overall food prices have gone up 15.3 percent in South Africa over the past 12 months, with fats and oils increasing by a whopping 52.1 percent and heavily used staple grains by 22.9 percent.

(Related video: "World Food in Crisis.")

Failing to plant crops on fallow land would squander an opportunity to protect the poor from an erosion of incomes because of these higher prices, Manuel said.

And while most urban dwellers do not have the land to plant sufficient food, many have vegetable gardens that could be used to supplement household food provisions, he added.

Buying in Bulk

Manuel has a firm supporter in Tony dos Santos, owner of a popular grocery store named Le Bamba in a region next to Kruger National Park that is home to some of South Africa's poorest communities.

Watching destitute people buy food these days is heartrending, dos Santos said.

"They arrive in groups, and you see them take items from the shelves, look at the price, and have serious discussions before putting them back, shaking their heads," he commented.

Continued on Next Page >>


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