It's not just drought that puts South Africa's food at risk

31 May 2017 - 16:24 By Suthentira Govender
The documentary 'Bitter Grapes - Slavery in the Vineyards' describes violations of labour law on South African wine farms.
The documentary 'Bitter Grapes - Slavery in the Vineyards' describes violations of labour law on South African wine farms.

Farm workers’ battles with lifestyle diseases‚ HIV/Aids and substance abuse is likely to threaten South Africa’s food security.

A sickly workforce‚ according to Agility Corporate - which provides healthcare risk management solutions to medical schemes - is likely to result in loss of productivity‚ adding to the many challenges South African farmers have to deal with‚ including drought‚ farm attacks and issues of land ownership.

“Our research in the agricultural sector shows that lifestyle diseases top the list of most-claimed for conditions‚” said Lizette Bester‚ an Agility Corporate executive.

Diabetes and cardiovascular diseases were common amongst farm workers.

“When it comes to risks impacting the workforce‚ there are a myriad of factors influencing agricultural operations’ efficiency in their contribution to food production.

“In order to make tangible‚ lasting progress‚ worker productivity needs to be assessed and addressed holistically.”

Bester said the impact of stress‚ psychological trauma‚ substance abuse‚ financial worries and workers living with chronic illnesses were likely to worsen farm workers’ state of health.

Agri SA‚ a federation of agricultural organisations‚ said HIV/Aids and related illnesses as well as alcohol abuse amongst workers remained “a big challenge” for farmers.

“Criminals attack farm workers in the hope of gaining access to farms and steal live stock or other valuable items or rob them from their hard-earned wages also inflict serious bodily harm‚” said Christo van der Rheede‚ AgriSA’s deputy executive officer.

“Workers that are absent from work due to illnesses not only bring about lower productivity‚ but it has also a negative impact on job prospects and career growth. Of particular concern is substance abuse that has negative consequences for productivity‚ economic growth‚ health‚ stable family life and rural safety. Many drug smugglers have now moved into rural areas and sell drugs to young farm workers and those dependent on government grants‚” said Van der Rheede.

He said to curb ill-health many commercial farmers have introduced a range of interventions.

“Huge investments are made on many commercial farms in terms of providing quality housing‚ health care‚ pre-schooling and sharing of educational development through continuous training and sharing of health information.”

- TMG Digital/TimesLIVE