How is SA going to feed 50m people?

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.
The ARC itself is multi-faceted, from gathering data on weather patterns to producing a “blushed” pear for preferential export; from the generation of soil data, to water conservation, the enhancement of food nutrition and the improvement of crop yields; to methods of screening and detecting avian influenza, the development of disease control through vaccines, the training of new farmers to grow vitamin-enhanced vegetables, the protection of crops, the development of horticulture and the protection of South Africa’s natural resources through plant protection and agricultural engineering.
TWO SOUTH AFRICAS…. one of value, the other parasitic…
Compare the achievements of the above to the antics of many of our politicians, activists and others who do not work but live off the public purse. There are indeed two South Africa’s – one of value, the other parasitic – useless and, in many instances, destructive. This has nothing to do with race. Indeed, within the agricultural scientific community are many black scientists making valuable contributions to food security. And within the non-scientific community are thousands of hard working people, black and white, who pay their taxes and are “seized with disgust” (as one newspaper put it) at how they are treated by some profligates in the government and their hangers-on.
It is a parallel scenario, with the shenanigans of the parasitic monopolizing the media.
Just as there is little news about the farmers and scientists who secure South Africa’s food supply, our media is replete with the fraud, incompetence and cries for nationalization of our farms and resources from people who have never done a day’s work in their lives, and who simply do not comprehend the implications of their raucous and ill-conceived demands.
The lavish living, the endless conferences, summits and overseas trips, the regular press statements about turn-around strategies for crumbling structures and municipalities, the five-point plans and the unrealistic and fanciful economic scenarios regularly trotted out to pacify an increasingly poor citizenry – these goings-on can be juxtaposed against the scientific integrity, intelligence and hard work of those people in the business of agriculture who actually make South Africa function. The huge remunerations and the golden handshakes are obscene when compared to the incomes of those who produce South Africa’s food and those who make is possible for this food to be safe and plentiful.
Only 211 veterinarians left for a population of 50 million’s animal health care….
The status quo may not last much longer – many veterinarians and scientists are leaving South Africa for greener pastures. Nationally the Department of Animal Health has 211 veterinarians – 211 in a population of nearly 50 million! It is indeed a thin blue line…

About Adriana Stuijt
Retired South African-Dutch journalist formerly Sunday Times Johannesburg

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