SOUTH AFRICA – The department of agriculture of South Africa has set aside a package of R1.2bn (US$68.4m) to address effects of the coronavirus and ensure sustainable food production after the pandemic.

Speaking during a news conference, Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza said the department would make the details of the package available in the coming days, together with the application channels available.

According to a Business Live update, the department has also availed R100m (US$5.7m) to the Land Bank to assist farmers under distress.

The coronavirus has left the global economy reeling and stocks plummeting amid fears of a jobs bloodbath. The pandemic has also led to a decline in agriculture demand and falling agricultural commodity prices.

Didiza said while several businesses will be affected, the agriculture and food supply sector will remain operational during the three week lockdown by President Cyril Ramaphosa which will begin at midnight (South African Time) on Thursday, March 26 as a measure to help fight the Covid-19 infection rate in the country.

“Our food supply system will remain functional during this period. Agricultural production in all its forms will remain uncompromised,” the minister said.

This includes all services including provision of veterinary and advisory services. Live auctions of livestock and sale of other agricultural commodities will continue but under the strict conditions a prescribed by the president.

Didiza said exports and imports of critical agriculture commodities and the logistical measures will continue during the lockdown period to ensure global and national food security.

This is not only limited to retailers but the entire food value chain, from farm related operations, agro-processing and food manufacturing, logistics and related services, wholesale and retail services, and all support functions that ensure efficient delivery of the agro-food system.

“As a nation, we boast for being self-sufficient in food production, and a part of this year’s supply is yet to be harvested which promises to be a bumper field crop and citrus harvest and these processes will continue as normal as a foundation of SA’s food system,” Didiza said.

According to a Reuters survey, South African maize farmers are expected to harvest 33% more maize in the 2019/20 season compared with the previous season, boosted by favourable weather conditions.

The total maize estimates is between 14.5 million tonnes to 15.4 million tonnes i.e. 8.672 million tonnes of white maize used mainly for human consumption and 6.287 million tonnes of yellow maize used mainly in animal feed.

Didiza further revealed that the ministry will be making regular updates on crop estimates to inform the country on its critical commodity supply. Food price monitoring will also be conducted on critical food basket commodities.

“This will be to ensure that we do not have inflated prices in the sector,” Didiza said.

She further appealed to the public not to embark on panic buying, as the country has sufficient food supplies and panic buying will only cause disruptions and inconvenience in the food system.

“I urge you, fellow citizens, to also be considerate and purchase that which is sufficient for your needs. To wholesalers and retailers, we urge you not to engage in price gouging, at such a crucial time for the country. You have an important role to play in the supply of food, and the fight against Covid-19,” she concluded.