The founder of iZindaba Zokudla, a Soweto-based farmers’ lab, advocated for a more democratic, sustainable and just food system at a webinar presented as part of VKB and Food For Mzansi’s annual Power Talk series.
Dr Naudé Malan, who is also a senior lecturer in development studies at the University of Johannesburg, said more should be done to reshape South Africa’s food systems along more equitable lines. He applied various theories of justice, built on economic and philosophical principals, adding, “The bright light of philosophy can really guide us in our thinking within the food system.”
“A (truly) just food system would be a food system that anyone would choose to have if they did not know what position they occupied in the food system,” explained Malan. “Let’s say, you didn’t know whether you were rich or poor, what gender you were… what your income or position in society was. If that were the case, what society and food system would you choose? You would probably choose a system that protected food, and made it available for those who don’t have food.”
Food systems are participatory, he stressed. “No one is self-sufficient in food and no one can grow all their own food. This really impresses on us the need to understand food as something that must always be traded, so we must distribute it and spread it across the world.”
An ever-prevalent point of crisis in the food system remains food wastage. “If we look at the picture, we feed more of our food to animals than to humans, there is a huge waste issue. And there is an unfair or unequal distribution of nutrition across the world, unequal distribution of capabilities and talents and geographical endowment.”
Siyabonga Mngoma, the founder of Abundance Wholesome Foods, argued that food with integrity can only be examined if there is agreement that food will always be a healing agent to the consumer.
The food activist said there is a need to include the consumer in the entire agricultural value chain. This is line with the global emergence of food citizenship, which according to the Food Ethics Council, explores the idea that consumers should not just be at the end of the food chain.
“The consumer is an active participant in the food system. They need to be able to say this is what I am eating and why I am eating, so that they can build a relationship with the food they consume,” she said.
‘Most powerful person in the food chain’
Caroline McCann, Slow Food International’s Southern Africa councillor, re-imagined a system where the slow food community plays an integral role promoting local food and traditional cooking. When talking about food with integrity, she believes it is necessary to trim the discussion down to an “open, clear and defined system”.
It is good, clean and fair food, McCann added. “The (current) system is designed with too many players involved. The most powerful person in the food chain, is the person who is going to transact. You may think that you add no value, you may think ‘I’m just the consumer’, but actually you are the most important person.”
Eastern Cape farmer and Integra Trust director, Dr Pieter Prinsloo, called for greater checks and balances to ensure the credibility of producers. He said there is an urgent need for stricter food policing that will guide and keep farmers on the straight and narrow in their integrity practices.
“We are starting to confuse the consumer when we talk about free range beef, free range chicken, grass fed and all those terms. But what does it actually mean? And who is checking that it is done in the right way?”
Manifesto for like-minded people
He said that the marketing of agricultural products was governed by a 1996 act, which has much room for improvement. For instance, he says, “in the meat industry you can register your quality indicator with the department of agriculture. SAMIC (South African Meat Inspection Company) is there to police and verify your quality claims.”
Prinsloo also called on consumers to e-sign the newly-launched “Heal the Land. Heal the People” manifesto. The manifesto is for like-minded people who are “keen to learn and collaborate to regenerate the health of our farms, food and communities for the sake of the current and future generations”.
Food For Mzansi editor Dawn Noemdoe thanked the hundreds of South Africans who, in the last three weeks, attended the 2020 Power Talk series presented in partnership with the VKB Group. “We are truly honoured to lead the conversation, even about matters that are not always comfortable to talk about, although it is in the best interest of the country and the agricultural sector.”