Independent research agency the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) has highlighted that South Africa’s food supply chains are complex. “These supply chains are a web of formal and informal interactions between agricultural inputs, logistics, farmers, spazas [informal convenience shops], bakkie [pick-up truck] traders, processing plants, shipping, retailing, biosecurity and more,” it stated in its latest brief report, 'Impact of Covid-19: Clarifying and managing essential goods and services across agricultural value chains is critical for food security'.
When the 21-day (March 27 to April 16) anti-Covid-19 national lockdown was initially proclaimed, informal traders were not included among the designated essential services, which caused serious food supply problems in numerous poor, and particularly rural, areas. This omission was rectified in amended regulations issued on April 2. “This is an important amendment, which allows informal traders such as street hawkers to operate again, but requires a coordinated implementation plan with regard to the issuing of permits and the enforcement of health and safety requirements within essential but informal food trading,” observed the BFAP.
Under the current lockdown regulations, “essential goods” included any food product, non-alcoholic drinks, and animal food. They also included the chemicals, packaging and ancillary products that were employed in the production of any food product.
However, the designation “essential services” had to be applied across agriculture as a whole, and not just food production, the bureau warned. This was because agricultural value chains were intertwined, and food production was often dependent on non-food agricultural production.
Thus, wool and cotton production were not defined as essential, yet their production provided farmers with cashflow, without which they would be unable to produce food crops. “Both sectors are also critical components of the animal feed industry,” the bureau pointed out. “It is therefore important that cotton and wool (export) trade be opened to support farm incomes. The export of cotton and wool also requires port services in order to facilitate the country’s exports.”
These facts emphasised the complexity of South Africa’s food industry. “From a food supply chain perspective, essential goods and services entail all activities and processes which support the production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste disposal of food in the system,” affirmed the BFAP.