One of the most important aspects of the restructuring of productive relations on the land is its impact on food systems. One of the consequences of land and agricultural policy since the 1970s is that South Africa currently has an enormously concentrated food system, with only a few corporations having accrued massive power not only in agriculture itself, but also upstream and downstream from it. While these arrangements are often justified in terms of their cost efficiency, they also involve significant costs. The domination of our food system by ‘big agriculture’ has undermined its ability to provide livelihoods, and has accelerated and deepened the processes that are driving poor people off the land.
Large scale industrial agriculture is ecologically unsustainable, reducing soil health and biodiversity, contributing to the pollution of our waterways, and making a significant contribution to climate change. And while this food system has managed to make some progress towards calorie sufficiency, it has promoted access to high energy foods with little nutritional value, contributing to a rapid rise in diet-related diseases in poor and vulnerable populations. While these dynamics are currently most concentrated in South Africa, indications are that supermarket expansion may be exporting obesity and diabetes to the rest of the continent.
PLAAS Food Systems Research
Our research on food systems is conducted in close collaboration with the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security, which is co-hosted by and located at the University of the Western Cape. One central theme of our research is understanding the role of smallholder agriculture in the food system, both as a source of livelihoods and as a component of sustainable local food geographies. One of our key aims here is fostering connections between research on food and nutrition within poor and vulnerable populations, and research on agrarian restructuring and marginalised livelihoods. Our research has also highlighted the important role played, not only by agriculture, but by marine resources and inland and coastal fisheries.
Florian Kroll (2017). Foodways of the poor in South Africa: How value-chain consolidation, poverty & cultures of consumption feed each other (PLAAS Working Paper 36).
Anne Marie Thow et al (2019) Improving policy coherence for food security and nutrition in South Africa: a qualitative policy analysis. (Food Security 10:4)
Moenieba Isaacs (2016). The humble sardine (small pelagics): fish as food or fodder. (Agriculture and Food Security 5:27)
Ben Cousins, Amelia Genis and Jeanette Clarke: The Potential of Agriculture and Land Reform to Create Jobs (Policy Brief 51)
- Agribusiness in Africa and the Right to Food: Funded by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, this project seeks to support the help integration of the right to food within broader policy frameworks on growth and development in Southern Africa and embed an understanding of food system change within policy thinking that is key to achieving this goal. Partners include the Zambian Land Alliance in Zambia, Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA) and the Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET) in Malawi, and the Observatório do Meio Rural (OMR) in Mozambique. The project is being led by Refiloe Joala.
- Researching the Obesogenic Food Environment: This project, funded by the IDRC in Canada, explores the factors leading to the consumption of ultra-processed and obesogenic food products in the urban environments of poor people in South Africa and Ghana. The project is led by Prof David Sanders of the School of Public Health (SOPH) at UWC. The project is hosted by the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security, in partnership with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana and the Menzies Centre for Health Policy, at the University of Sydney. For more information, see the project page at the IDRC and this video summary.