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Plight of SA farmworkers highlighted on World Food Day 2019

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As Wednesday marks World Food Day, the plight of millions of malnourished people in the world is highlighted. Paradoxically, most of those suffering from malnutrition work in the food production sector of agriculture. World Food Day is commemorated on an annual basis on 16 October, after the founding of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 1945. Although the establishment of the FAO was intended to effectively address the global issue of the physical availability of food as well as the agricultural sector’s development internationally, many farm workers continue to struggle – particularly in South Africa.

In light of this, the South African government also marks World Food Day through different activities and campaigns. Key objectives outlined by national government include:

  • To inform South Africans on the National Policy on Food and Nutrition Security.
  • To heighten public awareness on issues relating to the absence and scarcity of food in the country.
  • To strengthen solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty.
  • To promote food production and to stimulate national, bi-lateral, trans-national and non-governmental initiatives.
  • To encourage research and technology development for the development of symbiotic ecological food production systems to ensure sustainable food production.
  • To enhance the participation of rural people, particularly women and the under privileged, in decisions and events impacting their living conditions.
  • To heighten public awareness on government programmes aimed at halving hunger in South Africa.
  • To raise awareness of the contribution of indigenous forests to food security and nutrition.

Director of the Women on Farms Project, Colette Solomon says that research undertaken in 2019 suggests that 88% of women farmworkers in South Africa’s Northern Cape experience “seasonal hunger”.

“Research undertaken this year shows that 88% of women farmworkers in the Northern Cape experience seasonal hunger. This means that between April and August…farm women experience hunger.

What is also alarming is that even when they [women farmworkers] do work, nearly 50% still experience hunger – which suggests that the wages women earn are still very low and that work is becoming increasingly insecure.”

“In the past, when women seasonal workers worked, they worked for all six months of the season. What’s happening now is that women are working for shorter periods and it’s more precarious – they don’t know if or when they’ll work nor for how long they’ll work or how much they’ll be paid.”

Despite Solomon’s focus on women, however, the precarity of the farmworker occupation in South Africa is not limited to them. Many farmworkers in South Africa, regardless of sex, complain of a precarious existence often filled with abuse, malnourishment and exploitation. The plights of these workers were recently brought to the fore during the Western Cape farmworker’s strikes of 2012 to 2013.

A national conference on the future of farmworkers in South Africa is being launched at the University of the Western Cape on Wednesday, marking World Food Day, and will extend until 18 October.

“The national conference is kicking off today because it is World Food Day and we really just want to highlight the fact that in South Africa the people who produce our food are the people most likely to experience hunger,” said Solomon.

“The conference will comprise of farmworkers from the entire country as well as academics and researchers who work on the issues of farmworkers, land and food security.”

The minister of employment and labour, Mr Thembelani Thulas Nxesi, as well as the minister of justice, Mr Ronald Lamola are expected to be in attendance.

VOC


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