Our recent story on hungry students at the University of the Free State evoked widespread and passionate response now there is a nationwide movement afoot.

Activists from around the country are gearing up for a national dialogue on the right to food. They plan to inspire a movement for food sovereignty in South Africa.The African Centre for BioSafety, in collaboration with the Foundation for Human Rights, will host the dialogue on 29 and 30 November in Johannesburg.

If close to sixty percent of UFS students are hungry (see our hungry students story), what will this gathering mean for the university’s efforts to design a programme to deal with this challenge?

Sustainability activist Nirmala Nair has urged the university to help students and staff fully understand the issues involved. “It is not just a matter of providing money,” she said from Cape Town where she is based. “It is about students understanding what food sovereignty means and it is about what they choose to eat.”
Often there was confusion between food security and food sovereignty and food self-sufficiency, said Nair.

Sustainability activist Nirmala Nair.

Sustainability activist Nirmala Nair.

“Food security has become a cliched term for a market oriented industrial farming and distribution system of highly processed and packaged food in the name of poverty eradication,” she said.

Powerful Control

A small group of powerful roleplayers control how food is produced, processed, stored and distributed, she said. “The consumers have no say in what food is received as part of their food aid, nor do they have a clue where the food comes from. The food disconnect starts here, resulting in many of the emerging diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and the like.”

Food sovereignty respects local production processes as being owned and managed by local farmers who are aware of the changing local climatic systems. Nair said interventions to support food sovereignty cannot be globalised or prescriptive.

“Self-sufficiency introduced through eating locally grown food has been proven to be one of the best roads to stay healthy, due to the absence of processed foods,” says Nirmal Nair.

Let’s just illustrate this by looking at one of the major foods most of us eat every day: Bread. What are we eating? The African Centre for BioSafety provided us with the following diagram which explains the levels of Genetically Modified (GM) Soya that different companies use in bread that they sell to us.

The African Centre for Biosafety helping us to demystify the bread deception.

The African Centre for Biosafety helping us to demystify the bread deception.

Consumer Campaigner for the African Centre for Biosafety, Zakiyya Ismail, said that South African bread is contaminated with high levels of GM soya in the soya flour used in the bread.

“GM soya plantations are sprayed with liberal amounts of a herbicide called glyphosate and residues of this glyphosate make their way into this bread,” she said.

Tests conducted on behalf of the African Centre for Biosafety has revealed that Pioneer’s Sasko bread is the only bread with extremely low levels of GM soya, too low to be quantified. Most brands of white bread have between 21 % and 91% levels of GM soya.

“Citizen activism in some areas in KZN and Nelson Mandela Bay successfully managed to convince their local Spars to bake a completely non-GM bread, “she said. “In the absence of local, community produced bread, those with the lowest GM content or no GM content would be advised.”

The bread market is dominated by Tiger Brands, Premier Foods, Pioneer Foods and Foodcorp in both the milling (98%) and baking divisions (60%). In a country where more than 50% of people do not have regular access to food, Tiger Brands and Pioneer Foods made a profit of R2.441 billion in 2013 just from their baking divisions, said Ismail.

Collusion & Price Fixing

In 2007, Tiger Brands was fined R98.8 million after admitting that it had colluded with rivals (Premier Foods, Pioneer Foods and Foodcorp) to raise the price of bread by 30-35 cents a week before Christmas in 2006.

According to the reports of her organization, Ismail said that in 2010, Pioneer Foods was fined R195 million for its role in a bread price-fixing cartel, involving these other players as well. Their actions affected the “poorest of the poor, for whom these products are a staple,” she said. The man who blew the whistle and exposed these companies is not having an easy time. (See clip)

Charles Maisel, veteran social entrepeneur and job creator has drawn attention to another possibility that the university can consider.

An innovative project called Mama Mimis was started two years ago to provide people with healthy bread. Mama mimis, a bakery, prepares a premix that has no additives and lasts around 2-3 days. “Bread is made in a wood-fired stove,” said Maisels. “Mama mimis provides individuals with a stove and baking kit allowing them to start their own business. So far there are 380 bakers all over the country,” he said.

“These bakers each have one person helping meaning 760 people are self-employed by the system making. Each makes about 20-30 loaves a day at R9 each, with a total of 11400 loaves a day,” he said.

Take a look at this clip and ask yourself if this is an option for the hungry students of the University of the Free State. Write to us and tell us what you think are the pros and cons.

Next week: Maize and South Africa’s four million small farmers.

GM soya has been commercially grown in SA since in 2002 . Over 90% of South Africa’s soya production is genetically modified. (See www.acbio.org.za)

The percentages of GM Soya in your bread.

The percentages of GM Soya in your bread.