The Directors Event: 'Government should subsidise NPOs making a social impact in communities'

SA's biggest board meeting tackles food security in the spirit of ubuntu

24 June 2022 - 19:15
By Belinda Pheto
Experts at the Directors Event, SA's biggest board meeting, agree the government should be doing more to support organisations feeding poor communities.
Image: Bloomberg FOOD SECURITY Experts at the Directors Event, SA's biggest board meeting, agree the government should be doing more to support organisations feeding poor communities.

The government should subsidise non-profit organisations that are making a social impact in communities, according to Food Forward SA.

The organisation’s MD Andy du Plessis said he felt strongly about this as not only was this an effective path to socioeconomic recovery, but it was a fair expectation because feeding the hungry was actually part of the government’s responsibility.

Du Plessis was among a panel of experts at The Director’s Event on Friday, The event, described as SA's  biggest board meeting where the public and private sectors discuss and debate the shortest and most effective path to economic recovery,, featured discussions on the economy, equality and food security with a focus on reigniting the spirit of ubuntu.

“Government needs to play a key role in enabling civil society to be able to do more with a large number of people who are food insecure right now. We need to make sure that civil society is strengthened rather than used to do government’s job,” he said.

Du Plessis said communities in need were growing and NPOs were battling to keep up with the demand for food.

“What we think should happen is that civil society must play an important role in providing social safety nets, in providing food security and making food more accessible. One of the ways to do this is for government to give subsidies to non-profit organisations that are making an impact.”

Du Plessis said numerous NPOs were doing a lot, focusing on enterprise development, small business development and skills training. These were important areas as they encouraged communities to become independent.

Founder and CEO of Tomorrow Matters Now (TOMA-Now) Dr Jaishela Rajput said the heavy reliance on large retailers for food access was problematic because it offered very little support for smallholder farmers.

“One of the interesting things that came out of the pandemic was the rise of the smallholder farmer. As a supermarket shelf started to run empty, you would find that more and more smallholder farmers started being prominent and providing the supply of fresh produce to their local market. We need to leverage that. We should lean more on supporting smallholder farmers,” she said.

“This means there is a need for technical skills and access to financing.”

Prof Mark Swilling, co-director at the Centre for Sustainability Transitions at the University of Stellenbosch, said 90% of South Africans buy their food from large retailers. He pointed out that in 1994 a quarter of SA’s food was sold through supermarkets, and that this figure had grown to well over two thirds.

“We are now the sixth highest nation in the world in terms of the population percentage that buys their food from large-scale retailers.”

Prof Imraan Valodia, Wits University’s pro-vice-chancellor on climate, sustainability and inequality, said the problem with food security was the inequality challenge.

“Food must be something that makes us healthy and not ill. But in this unequal system, food makes people ill. Partly because they are eating too much or because they are not consuming enough,” he said.

On fixing the economy to improve livelihoods, experts agreed the government needs to play a bigger role.

John Dludlu, CEO of the small business institute, said the environment is getting tighter for small businesses. He mentioned the current water-shedding taking place in eThekwini municipality in Durban.

In this instance, he said, the government was not playing its part in assisting businesses to recover.

“That area has emerged from two crises — the July unrest from last year and the recent floods. Now they have to deal with water-shedding, which will leave some of the areas without water for up to five hours in a day,” he said.

Jan Bouwer, chief of digital platform at BCX, agreed, explaining that the government needed to turn more to technology.

“We are 18 months behind with the digital economy and there’s a need to streamline government services.”

New ways of tackling inequality needed to focus on how public and private sectors can work together to raise SA above the classification of a fragile emerging economy.


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