Two quite unrelated news items caught my attention today. The International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC) of South Africa yesterday announced that it will impose provisional anti-dumping duties for the following 26 weeks against Brazilian imports of frozen whole chickens and boneless chicken cuts. The magnitude of the duties is between 6 and 63 percent. (Read the tralac report here.) A few hours ago, the DA released a media statement “Mr Mulder needs a history lesson”, in which they attack Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder’s claims of land redistribution. Mmusi Maimane, the DA National Spokesperson, makes a fair point about land redistribution, but he then makes the following claim: “The first freedom is the freedom to eat. We need working farms that ensure the food security of our people and create employment opportunities in rural areas.”

Unfortunately, Mr Maimane and ITAC (and, for that matter, the Freedom Front Plus) is guilty of the same incorrect rhetoric. Food security is not about production. Food security is not about producing enough food for your citizens. If it was, then Hong Kong and Singapore would be the most food insecure regions in the world, which it isn’t. Food security, as Wikipedia will tell you, refers “to the availability of food and one’s access to it”. Food insecurity is the inability of citizens to consume, not produce, food. Food insecurity can occur in a country that is nearly entirely agricultural, such as Somalia and Ethiopia, two countries that only recently experienced food shortages and starvation.
Why should South Africa produce all its own food, when only 13% of our land is suitable for crop production? Why not import our food from other breadbaskets, like India, or (subsidy-rich) Europe, or Brazil? Nineteenth century England realised this and removed the Corn Laws that protected local farmers. Instead, they focused on what we today call the Industrial Revolution, and imported their (growing) food requirements from the American Corn Belt. The South African Poultry Association alleged that frozen chickens were being dumped on the South African market, at prices below what South African chicken farms can rival. ITAC perceived this as a threat to food security, and instituted duties that will almost certainly increase food prices. This will have the exact opposite effect on food security: higher prices would allow fewer (poor) South Africans to buy chicken, reducing food security for those that are most at risk.

Food security is not about South Africa producing all its own food. Food security means we should provide all our citizens with food at as low a cost as possible. That’s the lesson from the Industrial Revolution. It seems that both Messrs Maimane and Mulder need history lessons.