‘You cannot have peace if people are hungry’

Human Rights Day commemorates the establishment of the South African Human Rights Commission and Sharpeville Massacre. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Human Rights Day commemorates the establishment of the South African Human Rights Commission and Sharpeville Massacre. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Inequality defines our time, says United Nations secretary-general António Guterres in his hard-hitting 2020 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture live-streamed across the globe yesterday.

Guterres says the covid-19 pandemic played an important role in highlighting growing inequalities, and exposing the myth that everyone is in the same boat. “While we are all floating on the same sea, it’s clear that some are in superyachts, while others are clinging to the floating debris.”

United Nations secretary-general António Guterres. Photo: UN

His address, as part of an annual global event on Madiba’s birthday, follows just days after he warned of deeply entrenched hunger globally.

This warning is supported by president of the International Fund for Agriculture Gilbert Houngbo who says, “We cannot continue thinking of agriculture, the environment, health, poverty and hunger in isolation. World problems are interconnected, and the solutions are intertwined. The current pandemic is a wake-up call to all of us.”

Guterres delivered his address from New York, describing Mandela, who would have turned 102 years old today, as “a moral giant of the 20th century whose timeless legacy continues to guide us today.”

Meanwhile, back in South Africa, agriculture’s role in shaping the nation post covid-19 was discussed at a live Food For Mzansi Power Talk hosted on Facebook by journalists Dawn Noemdoe and Duncan Masiwa. It is no secret that Madiba has touched many lives, and the late stateman’s impact reflect in the agricultural sector, says managing director of the VKB Group, Koos Janse Van Rensburg.

Participating in Food For Mzansi’s Mandela Day live Power Talk was Keneilwe Nailana from Standard Bank, Rev. Earl Richards from the Step-up Foundation and Koos Janse van Rensburg from the VKB Group.

The VKB boss also echoes Guterres’ sentiments when he says, “’Madiba once said: ‘All over the world everyone wants peace.’ But I think the importance is, you cannot have peace if there are people hungry and starving.”

Van Rensburg concedes that the primary goal of agriculture was to ensure that the country has food security. He admits that against the backdrop of unemployment and tough economic circumstances it became difficult to remain optimistic, especially given the exacerbated hunger crisis.

The fragility brought about by the coronavirus should be a reminder of the nation’s perseverance, says senior manager of agribusiness at Standard bank, Keneilwe Nailana. “We have come from an era where we have attained democracy. Even during this journey there were a lot of hills to climb to correct the injustices of the past and we have conquered them, but we are still trying to find solutions to the others.”

WATCH: Agriculture commemorates the legacy of Nelson Mandela
The Northern Cape’s Step-up Foundation aims to serve the often forgotten rural communities. Photo: Supplied

Madiba believed that overcoming poverty was not a task of charity, but rather an act of justice, says founder of the Northern Cape-based Step-up foundation, Rev. Earl Richards. He quoted the Nobel laureate who said,  “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”

The pandemic, Richards adds, forces people to seek sustainable solutions to the hunger crisis. While food parcels and handouts might alleviate an immediate crisis, more efforts were needed bring about long term-change.

“It is through small steps that we can be great again and take our future back. Handouts cause a sort of dependency syndrome. We prefer to, instead, empower people through food gardening projects. We choose to be involved in the messiness of people’s lives.”

Meanwhile Nailana says that 26 years since Mandela became Mzansi’s first democratic president, particularly young, black farmers are still faced with the lack of inclusivity in the sector. She believes there is a clear need to create opportunities for especially youth, women-headed households and small-scale farmers.

“Right now, we are sitting with a crisis of more than 40% youth unemployment. The question is what are we doing to ensure that there is inclusivity. Every time they come knocking on our doors, they find more obstacles than solutions. The solution is simple,” she said. “Partnerships are the key to agricultural success. There is power in numbers.”

She describes agriculture as “a game of economical scales”. “… a game of volumes, in fact. You will find if you try to go at it alone, you go slower. If you want to play in the mainstream fields you need capacity. You need vast quantities of land. Pool resources together through partnerships.”

Van Rensburg highlights some of the many agricultural success stories, especially where partnerships have yielded great success. “There are white farmers who are willing to help black farmers become commercial famers in short spaces of time.”

Guidance is always welcomed, says Richards. “We have to acknowledge that we do not know everything. And we do not (always) have all the skills nor do we have all the knowledge or the access to markets. We simply cannot do it alone. The more we reach out the more people we end up helping.”

‘Covid-19 brought renewal’

In conclusion, Richards urges South Africans to embrace the many positive changes brought about by covid-19.

“What we go through now is only temporary. We shall overcome this, and we will be much stronger than we were in March 2020. The one door is closed, but I believe that there are many other doors to open. Covid-19 was a new start, a new perspectives and a renewal.”

The pandemic has also paved the way for innovation and the digitalisation of the sector, says Nailana. “It forced us to think about how we do business and how we even educate our kids. We have seen businesses having to think on their feet. They have had to adapt. I take so much pride in how we have seen businesses innovate and transform since the lockdown was announced. Especially when we talk about small agribusiness, we have seen many of them turn to digital platforms to do business.”