Government opens up public comment period on food policy after uproar

Government opens up public comment period on food policy after uproarLearners work in a food garden nutrition health. (File photo).

After weeks of lobbying by civil society organisations, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has decided to open its draft food security plan for public comment.

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The plan must tackle issues like access to water, milling in order to be successful, said participants yesterday
The plan must tackle issues like access to water, milling in order to be successful, said participants yesterday

DAFF Chief Director of Food Security Zibusiso Dlamini made the announcement yesterday at the close of a two-day public consultation on a draft implementation plan for the new National Policy on Food and Nutrition Security. The window for written, public comment will close 27 March.

Dlamini’s announcement followed repeated calls from more than 20 civil society groups, including small farmer cooperatives for public consultation on the policy and plan. These calls were echoed by many of the 50 representatives of farmer’s cooperatives and community-based organisations present at yesterday’s meeting.

“We want nothing for us without us,” said Nomsa Selebano, a small-scale farmer from Randfontein. She added that government policymakers were not in touch with the realities of her community in which access to water and healthcare remained problematic.

According to Dlamini, receiving written submissions will allow government to accommodate calls for consultation while not delaying possible Cabinet approval and funding of the plan. He added that broader consultations would occur as provinces drafted their own plans to roll out the national policy.

Public interest law organisation Section27 was one of just five civil society organisations that were allegedly formally invited to yesterday’s consultation. Section27 attorney Sasha Stevenson told Health-e News that while allowing for written submissions was useful, it might exclude some people.

“The vast majority of people, even many of those directly working on the issue (of food), have no idea that this process is happening – that’s why we called for a public awareness campaign,” said Stevenson.

“The assertion that consulting on provincial implementation plans makes up for lack of consultation on the national policy and implementation plan is absurd,” she added. “This suggests that people in provinces other than Gauteng have nothing to add to the national framework.”

Few tasked with representing many

According to Oxfam Advisor Nokutula Mhene, her non-profit organisation– not DAFF – invited the majority of civil society representatives yesterday.[quote float= right]“…We have already organisations and civil society groups whom we would like to believe are representing the bulk and the majority our people on the ground”

“We invited half the people here and they were almost turned away at the door,” said Mhene after DAFF employees scrambled to accommodate a crowd of about 50 farmers and representatives from community organisations from provinces including Gauteng, Limpopo, the Free State and Northern Cape.

This is despite Dlamini’s statements early in the day that the government was relying on non-governmental organisations present to relay the concerns of a variety of constituencies.

“We would have loved to take this on a road show across the length and breath of the country,” Dlamini said at the start of consultations yesterday. “South Africa has 54 million people, it will prove to be obviously fruitless to try embark on an extensive exercised.”

“Hence, we then thought that we have already organisations and civil society groups whom we would like to believe are representing the bulk and the majority our people on the ground.”

Good policy, poor consultation?

The government’s latest policy has been controversial, not for what it proposes but for the lack of consultation prior to its passing by Cabinet in 2013.

While the policy has been criticized for failing to properly identify the private sector’s role in assuring food security, it proposes measures – such as ensuring that government is buying food for hospitals, schools and prisons from smaller, local producers – that have been successful in countries like Brazil.

At yesterday’s meeting, Outcome Facilitator for Rural Development in the Presidency Tsakani Ngomane acknowledged that consultation on the policy had been lacking.

“The policy was approved without providing sufficient time for consultation,” Ngomane said. “It was an urgent response by government, but we want to make sure that every South African is aware of what is happening and that they have the opportunity to provide input.”

“This is an issue of national importance and we need buy in from all levels,” she added.

Written submissions on the implementation plan can be directed to [email protected] by 27 March. – Health-e News.

An edited version of this story also appeared on Health24.com