How is SA going to feed 50m people?
10 December 2010 Leave a comment
Transvaal Agricultural Union asks: “How is South Africa going to feed itself?”
The Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa has issued the following media-statement, which we publish in full.
Agriculture is boring for the news media:
“Scant attention is paid to agriculture in our media. It’s boring, it doesn’t have “media appeal” and unless something terrible happens to some hapless farmer, or squatters invade a farm enmasse, South Africa’s food security as a subject of interest is a non-starter. Food on the shelves is taken for granted.
This attitude prevails at the country’s peril!
Recent visits to South Africa by overseas agricultural groups and official delegations have highlighted to those South Africans who showed the visitors around the precarious state of South Africa’s ability to produce food, day after day, for nearly 50 million people. There are a number of thin blue lines, but none more than the prevention of animal, bird and plant diseases by dedicated teams of veterinarians and scientists holding the line against the incursion of any number of afflictions from not only the rest of Africa but also from overseas, through South Africa’s ports.
Since the collapse of orderly government in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, the onus has been on South Africa to prevent the incursion of any number of diseases into the country. The Kruger National Park’s (KNP) buffalo herds are natural carriers of foot and mouth disease (FMD), one of farming’s worst nightmares. South Africa’s sophisticated structure of disease prevention should be shouted from the rooftops, and those who should listen are the citizens who daily trawl the country’s food supermarkets packed to the rafters with arguably the best food in the world. Can you imagine what would happen to our three meals a day without the dedication and attention to detail of the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Health personnel, for example, who have set up a buffer zone next to the KNP to nip in the bud any encroaching buffalo or infected cattle before they move into what is known as the “free zone” – the rest of South Africa where FMD is not found?
Can you imagine where this government would stand politically if food shortages, especially meat shortages, were to become endemic because of a lack of control of the country’s borders? Food riots would be the least of its worries!
Outbreaks of disease occur within the country as well. In August 2004, outbreaks of the bird flu H5N2 were detected in the Eastern Cape among ostriches. These were detected via meticulous inspection regimens, and control measures were immediately instituted. Three control zones were established – an inner infected zone, a middle quarantine zone and an outer surveillance zone 30 km from the epicenter of infection: more than 26 000 birds were culled, and an immediate country-wide export ban was put in place. No sign of the disease was seen in chickens or wild birds in the area, but they were checked in any case. Can you imagine the catastrophic effect on the poultry industry if these scientists and other officials were not performing this crucial job with such diligence and commitment?
The Boers eradicated rinderpest; contagious bovine pleurophneumonia… scrapie… and many other diseases
South Africa’s veterinary successes include the eradication of rinderpest (1904), contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (1924), infectious equine anaemia (1955), glanders (1945), equine viral arteritis 1998), scrapie (1972) and foot and mouth disease (2002).
The European Union has confidence in South African exports because it knows that an army of experts – not only academically qualified but zealous in their dedication – are in place to protect South Africa’s food security and the integrity of the country’s products.
The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) at Onderstepoort is one of the oldest of its kind in the world, and certainly in Africa.
The country’s first laboratory for veterinary disease was founded in Pretoria in 1898 and already in 1908, Onderstepoort had developed vaccines for the Rinderpest plague, lung sickness, Blackwater, African horsesickness, Blue tongue and anthrax. Onderstepoort Biological Products makes vaccines for South Africa, Africa and the world – it produces millions of vaccine doses per year to control as many as 50 diseases.