Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni
Premium Journalist
2 minute read
20 Mar 2020
10:38 pm

SA food security assured as virus closes global export markets

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni

But the farming economy could take a knock in the event of notable declines in global demand, which was a likely event at this point.

Picture: iStock

Food producers will have to find alternative markets locally as the Covid-19 outbreak could put a damper on South Africa’s record harvest projections for the year, according to experts. But this also meant that South Africans should stop panicking about food security for now.

Data from the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa this week showed southern Africa could have a record 143.3 million cartons of citrus fruit for the export market this year, a 13% increase from the previous season.

At the same time, according to Wandile Sihlobo, agricultural economist at Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz), South Africa could expect an abundant supply of agricultural commodities including grains and fruits, which was a boost for food security at least at a national level.

But the farming economy could take a knock in the event of notable declines in global demand, which he warned was a likely event at this point.

Head of economics at AgriSA Dr Requier Wait shared these concerns, saying a drop in global demand prompted by the global panic over Covid-19 could be a setback for the otherwise recovering agricultural sector.

“If producers are exporting less it could mean that the product would have to be sold locally, but in a sense that could mean lower revenue because exporters are typically able to charge higher prices and this will also mean a loss in foreign currency earnings.”

This week the group called for calm, asking South Africans to stop panic buying because while South Africa was a net exporter of agricultural products, domestic food security was still robust.

“South Africans should stay calm and work together to overcome this pandemic. Consumers should refrain from panic buying as SA will remain food secure for the foreseeable future thanks to our farmers,” said Wait. “AgriSA will monitor the situation and collaborate with the government and industry leaders to support collective actions that can position agriculture for growth.”

According to Sihlobo, the Covid-19 pandemic could very well result in lower food prices domestically. “There are prospects of good fruit harvests this year, with the citrus industry recently noting a 13% year on year (y/y) increase in available supplies for export markets,” he said.

“Amid the Covid-19, especially within the European Union and Asia region, which are important markets for South African fruit exports; any glitches in supply chains would result in an increased supply for the local market, thereby lowering prices. This would be good for a consumer, but the inverse can be said for farmers.”

Meanwhile, Statistics SA data showed an increase in the country’s food price inflation. The index rose to 4.2% y/y in February 2020, from 3.7% y/y in the previous month. This was mainly brought about by relative price increases of dairy, eggs, oils, fats and vegetables.

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.