Commercial farming drives the country's food security

Commercial farmers account for 95% of the country's locally-produced food, planting their crops on only 5% of total agricultural land and owning 72% of all livestock, according to the South African Institute of Race Relations.

There are 94.5 million hectares of agricultural land in South Africa of which 13.1 million, or 14%, are cultivated, which means they are tilled and used to plant crops. The remaining 81.3 million hectares, or 86%, are used for grazing though some agricultural land could also be used for mining and other activities.

The figures come from Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy, and a statement released by the minister of economic development, Ebrahim Patel.

The commercial agriculture census, published by Stats SA, shows that the 47 500 commercial farmers in the country plant all their crops on 4.6 million hectares, which works out to 36% of cultivated agricultural land and 5% of total agricultural land. Commercial farmers keep 72% of the country's total livestock.

Commercial farmers account for 95% of the country's locally-produced food, according to the minister of economic development. The remaining 5% of food is therefore produced by the 220 000 emerging farmers and 1.3 million subsistence farmers in the country.

‘While emerging and subsistence farmers may feed their own families and some others, the above information demonstrates that national food security depends on commercial farming,' said Kerwin Lebone of the Institute's research department.

Source: Kerwin Lebone, South African Institute of Race Relations 


Tracy van der Heijden's picture
Tracy van der H... replied on

The analysis that South Africa's food security "depends on commercial farming" because the bulk of the country's food production takes place in that sector is fundamentally flawed, and ignorant of the key issue that food security is determined primarily by the ability of households and individuals to access food, not by national production levels. Significant numbers of South Africans experience either outright hunger or poor nutrition, despite high levels of domestic commercial food production. Small-scale and subsistence farming produces food for those who are unable to afford the output of the commercial sector. National food security will only translate into individual food security if there are mechanisms in place to ensure that the food produced is actually accessible. Unfortunately an industrialised food system, characterised by high levels of concentration in food processing and retailing (i.e. the South African format) is associated with very high differentials between the farm gate price of food (that received by farmers) and the price paid by consumers. If these differentials are not addressed then it is perfectly possible for national food security to co-exist alongside individual hunger for the forseeable future. The very high farm gate-retail price differential is also the reason why it is very difficult for small farmers producing for the market to sell enough production to become food secure, as opposed to producing for own consumption.  

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