Part three of a three-part series on the state of food security in South Africa. There are a number of potential solutions to the global food security crisis. One thing is clear, though: actions to counter the effects of growing instability and climate change must be supported by various complementary initiatives.
It has become increasingly obvious that our over-reliance on industrialised, single-crop agriculture and the global food trade is placing communities at risk worldwide. A focus on what works at local levels will be critical, as we face a daunting future for international food security.
The importance of agricultural diversity
A study published in August by the Italy-based Alliance of Bioversity International and International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) highlights the vital role that agricultural diversity can play in helping to achieve food security. “Not only is (agricultural diversity) the driver, but it’s the foundation of everything,” says Elizabeth Gotor, CIAT’s principal scientist.
South Africa is well-placed to benefit from agricultural diversity. This depends, however, on our ability to bolster our rich variety of crops, livestock, fish species, and wild resources with diverse methods and scales of production. It is not only a social imperative for commercial farmers to radically diversify crops grown on a large scale, but a shrewd financial decision.
South African communities can lessen their reliance on global supply chains by focusing on local, sustainable food production and distribution. A recent study from KwaZulu-Natal, for example, has shown that integrating grain legumes into small-holder monoculture urban cropping systems might be a viable option for sustainable food production and household food and nutrition security.
FTFA has been diversifying and creating sustainable agricultural systems since its inception over 30 years ago, particularly in under-resourced communities where access to food is already problematic. FTFA encourages community market gardens, school permaculture programmes, and self-sustaining, inter-cropped food forests as ways of transforming local food production in their projects. These local, sustainable ways of producing food also actively combat climate change by drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and improving soil organics and the water cycle.
Shifting our mindset to strengthen global food security
These and other approaches should come as part of a wider shift in mindset regarding how we produce and consume our food.
“This profound crisis confirms that we need to accelerate globally the food system transition towards sustainability and resilience,” notes the European Commission (EC). To this end, the EC has pledged €2.5 billion for international cooperation with a nutrition objective between 2021 and 2024. It will also support over 70 countries to increase their food system resilience and help to advance the sustainability-focused Farm to Fork Strategy international agenda.
McKinsey expert Nicolas Denis highlights the need to track and eliminate waste and rethink protein sources. “We know that red meat, white meat, and alternative protein are all options with different profiles in terms of the consumption of agricultural commodities,” he says.
We still haven’t solved issues like food waste; as Denis notes, we waste 30% of our food. One initiative announced by the EC aims to combat this wastage, with a goal of halving food waste by 2030 and reducing food losses by at least 25%.
Other encouraging initiatives championed by the EC include lessening the environmental impact of food production, linking school meals programmes with local farmers, and scaling up agroecology practices and value chains. A 2020 study found that managing soil health and restoring damaged soil should be part of the solution. Improved soil integrity leads to an increased assurance of yields even under extreme climatic conditions. Maintaining soil health and mitigating the effects of climate change on local food systems in turn results in healthier air and water as well as improved nutrition and food security.
Denis further suggests the possibility of temporarily rethinking the balance of how we use certain crops. He explains that 18% of corn, for example, is currently used for fuel or biochemicals. He also wonders whether the 10 to 15% of fallow land set aside for biodiversity purposes might temporarily be accessed for agriculture.
Could this be taken a step further, to allocate that land for semi-indigenous food forests? This would combine self-sustaining, diverse food production systems with a permanent habitat for important pollinators like birds and insects, and other animals. It could also be a way of kickstarting local supply and value chains.
Another proposed solution comes from Dr. Allan Savory, who advocates for grazing that mimics Nature to restore vast grasslands across the world. These grasslands, he says, have vast potential as carbon sinks to take atmospheric carbon levels back to pre-industrial levels and simultaneously feed people.
Related examples include the rewilding and regenerative agriculture project at Knepp Estates in the UK, as well as the Savory Institute’s pasture management system. These approaches encourage subsoil carbon, hoof action, and meat production (chicken, rabbits, and sheep) through regenerative agriculture. In this model; farms run with a reduced impact on the short-term ecology of each area, while building the long-term biodiversity of a farm.
An increased focus on diversity, sustainability, and localised networks help to offset international pressures on the food system. This is evident in the work done at FTFA through Trees for All, Food Gardens for Africa and EduPlant. An ongoing reliance on international supply chains, to varying degrees for some time to come while we transition is inevitable. We cannot change the system overnight,but evolving the way we think about agriculture, food waste, and the environment sets us on a path towards food security for all.
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