World Food Day: Plight of farmworkers in the spotlight

The future of farmworkers looks bleak as they face the problems of mechanisation, less available farmland for food production and eviction from farm houses which they’ve occupied for generations.

World Food Day, celebrated today, is not only putting a spotlight on food security in the country, but also the food insecurity of farms and their contribution to the economics of the whole food value chain.

A national conference will begin today to highlight the future of farmworkers in South Africa in order to raise awareness of the integral role that they have in the economy and its food system.

UWC’s Professor Stephen Devereux, who is also affiliated with the Centre of Excellence in Food Security, said: “For South Africa’s farmworkers, the future is uncertain. It’s tragic and outrageous that the people who produce the food that we eat in South Africa are most likely to go hungry.”

Director of the Women on Farms Project, Colette Solomon, said: “Food insecurity and seasonal hunger has increased due to increasing casualisation of labour as income is now precarious. During winter months when there’s little to no work on farms, farmworkers are dependent on social grants, but these are small and can’t feed households as they have to be stretched to cover many other household needs and to sustain whole families.”

Solomon said that the national minimum wage rate for farmworkers was below the cost of an average nutritious basket of food and the grants were also not enough.

President of the Black Association of the Wine and Spirits Industry, Nosey Pieterse, said: “Another major issue for farmworkers is evictions, as farmers are trying to get workers off the farm.

 “The attitude of farmers towards farmworkers has hardened because there are more laws protecting them.

“When there was no protection on farms, then farmworkers were welcomed, and now that farm owners have more rights, they’ve become hostile,” said Pieterse.

Devereux said: “Laws on paper are intended to protect farmworkers and enhance their security but there’s no proper monitoring for enforcement, so the laws don’t translate to protection.”

Solomons said it was critical for farmworkers’ voices to be included in decisions and the implementation of expropriation of commercial farm land.



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