Measures taken by the government in response to the pandemic…

Agriculture has been one of the few bright spots in the South African economy. A new to study in the peer-reviewed journal Agrekon examines the impact of the pandemic on the sector and finds that the government’s approach has been clumsy on some fronts.

Let’s start with the wine industry, because Prohibition was a major source of whining—often for good reason. The initial lockdown restrictions prohibited the domestic sale and even the export of alcohol. Some “revolutionary” parties try to export the revolution. It seems that the maniacal social control wing of the ANC also tried to export morality.

“The government did not consult with this sector and made no attempt to understand the effect of its decisions on the supply chain,” the study notes with Acid. Instead, he came out blindly waving a scythe that mowed down businesses and livelihoods while creating a host of consequences that could have been mitigated by consultation.

“Grapes and barley for making wine and beer, respectively, had to be harvested and processed into the respective products, which could then be stored for long periods of time. Waivers had to be sought for each step of the process; this arduous procedure could have been avoided if there had been adequate consultation from the outset.

“The export ban caused South Africa to lose important trading partners, some of whom were looking for wine from other wine-producing countries to fill the void. Securing an export market takes many months of negotiations, and once lost, they are very difficult to regain,” the study states.

This is what happens when the government fails to consult key stakeholders – a common theme of poor ANC governance. Grape and barley growers suddenly had to fill out endless forms just to store their produce, while South Africa inexplicably lost export market share – what happens when you stop exporting a product. You are considered unreliable.

The broader agriculture and food sector value chain has been affected in many different ways.

“The fast food industry employed around 330,385 people before the pandemic, virtually all of whom were negatively affected by the hard lockdown,” the study notes. Related restaurant sectors such as cafes and caterers have also been affected.

“Together, these establishments demand a considerable volume of food from wholesale markets, fresh produce markets and food processing sections of the supply chain. Their closure led to temporary declines in agricultural prices, particularly of red meat, vegetables and fruits,” the study said.

Yet, overall, agriculture has done relatively well, for two main reasons, the first being that most of the sector – with notable exceptions such as wine – has been allowed to operate below the level of locking 5.

The other key reason was timing.

“The lockdown began when South Africa had already reached the end of the summer grain production season,” the study said.

“The late start to the summer grain harvest season saw some of the summer crop harvesting activities take place in May and June during the less strict Tier 3 lockdown. This meant that food production activities and harvest were largely uninterrupted. South Africa delivered its second largest maize crop in the 2019/20 season, as well as the highest barley production on record. There was also a record citrus harvest.

This is largely thanks to the sector itself and the often capital-intensive initiatives it has undertaken.

With a bumper maize harvest, South Africa has not experienced a food shortage. But the study points out that “providing accessible food to vulnerable groups” was a challenge.

“This is partly because informal traders did not receive enough support and were not allowed to trade in the early days of the lockdown. This restriction affected both the affordability and accessibility of food for the vulnerable,” he notes.

The study concludes that some of the measures taken by the government were poorly designed and taken without consideration of their potential consequences.

“Some government regulations were enacted without a clear understanding of their impact on the food supply chain… The government also vastly underestimated the ripple effects of decisions made before Alert Level 5.

“The highly regulated food industry is a complex web of interactions; it is hugely interconnected, and what happens at one point in the chain affects the entire chain, including the livelihoods of people operating in this vast industry.

One would have hoped that lessons would be learned, but don’t hold your breath. DM/BM

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