ACCORDING to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, nearly 30 percent of the global population – that is 2,4 billion people – were moderately or severely food insecure in 2022.
It was against this backdrop that the International Food Security Conference was held in Cape Town on August 31.
Held at the Islamia Auditorium in Lansdowne, the conference was jointly hosted by Awqaf SA and the International Peace College of South Africa (Ipsa) in partnership with the Islamic Organisation for Food Security (IOFS). Among the supporting organisations were Madina Institute, Islamia College and Al Ansaar Foundation.
The conference was addressed by a number of international and local experts and activists in the field of food security. The keynote speaker was Professor Yerlan Baidaulet from Kazakhstan, the Director General of the IOFS, an international organisation that monitors and manages the state of food security in 37 member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC).
The University of the Western Cape (UWC) was represented on the panel by Professor Julian May and Professor Moeniba Isaacs.
Professor May is the director of the Department of Science and Innovation-National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Food Security, director of the Institute for Social Development at UWC, and holds the UNESCO Chair in African Food Systems.
Professor Isaacs is a Full Professor with the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) at the University of Western Cape (UWC). She is the academic manager for postgraduate teaching, co-coordinator of accredited short-course training on the Political Economy of Land Governance in Africa and on Living Landscapes in Action.
The one-day Food Security Conference brought together stakeholders from various sectors to foster closer collaboration and to devise sustainable strategies. The focus was on combatting food insecurity in South Africa in particular, and the African continent in general. It also aimed to further understand the role of agri-business as the driver of job creation and economic growth and thus a key factor in alleviating poverty.
The speakers also looked at the impact of geo-political conflicts, climate change, trade policies and regional tensions that often disrupt food supply chains, thus hindering access to food.
Climate change was a key focus of the conference as it poses significant challenges to agricultural productivity, affecting yields and altering traditional growing patterns.
Professor Isaacs, whose research focus is on small-scale fisheries management and rights, explained in detail the inner workings of the fishing industry and the intrinsic role fish plays in daily South African life as a source of income and nutrition.
Her research found that in many cases the fishers, after having caught their daily quota, do not have the network to market their catch. She pointed out that ‘fish is not like gold. You cannot stack it away under the bed. You need to move it, and move it fast.’
Lack of access to a distribution network makes the fishers vulnerable to the ‘middleman’ who will pay cash and negotiate the seller down to the lowest possible price. The stock is then sold on for as much as three times the price. Professor Isaacs declared that the entire system around fishing needs to be overhauled so that it better protects the fishers and the population of fishing villages.
Cassiem Khan, whose academic research investigated the strategies of four national Muslim social welfare organisations in South Africa in providing food relief to thousands of poor people worldwide, made an impassioned plea for the destitute and those in dire need. He pointed out that state pensions for the aged and social welfare grants for the disabled were not sufficient to provide for the living expenses of the marginalised.
Khan said that it was not possible to separate food security, or insecurity, from other basic needs.
‘When we talk about a family that is food secure, we must also ask: “Are they energy secure?” Do they have enough money to buy the electricity or gas to cook the food?’
He also highlighted the concept of ‘own food production’. If one is in a fortunate enough position to have a small garden the produce from that patch, when sold, can help alleviate some of the daily running costs of a household. He did stress the fact that not many people have access to a small piece of land, so having one’s own garden is not a viable solution to most economically disadvantaged people.
Professor Muhammed Haron, Director of International Relations at Ipsa, led the discussion on ideas, concepts and solutions on food security and eco-systems.
The event was concluded with closing remarks by Hafith Advocate Abubakr Mahomed and Professor Baidaulet from Kazakhstan, and the vote of thanks was delivered by Taj Akleker.
R1 million pledged to fund local food security initiatives
An anonymous donor at the conference pledged R1 million for the development of local farming and fishing. The CEO of Awqaf SA, Zeinoul Abedien Cajee, told Muslim Views that funding of this nature may be expanded to include an agri-science chair at Ipsa, public education programmes in agriculture and agri-entrepreneurship at school level.
Cajee called on the business community to support this important initiative by contributing to the fund which will be managed by Awqaf SA in association with Ipsa. Contributions may be deposited into the Awqaf SA FNB account number 620-520-401-45. Reference details are: [your mobile number]/foodsec/donor name.
This article was updated on September 2, 2023 at 14h45 to include the news of the R1 million pledge and to effect editing changes.