Leading South African business executives recently shared their insights with the BRICS Business Forum hosted virtually by India. The purpose of the forum was to host discussions and expand relations in key areas of cooperation and develop joint recommendations for strengthening trade and economic relations within BRICS against the backdrop of pressing socio-economic difficulties that emanated as a result of COVID-19.
Chairperson of the BRICS Business Council South Africa Chapter, Ms Busi Mabuza says that “the pandemic could have decimated our global food supply chains. Sub-Saharan Africa escaped catastrophic impact through a combination of two factors: good fortune in the form of better rains last year and prompt public policy responses. We are not yet out of the woods.”
“When the pandemic hit our shores in March 2020, there were legitimate fears that agricultural production would be disrupted, food insecurity would grow resulting in tens of millions more people consequently falling into extreme poverty. This fear was expressed by many including the World Bank. It’s important we contextualize this reasonable apprehension. Ours is a continent that is a net importer of agricultural and food products whilst South Africa continues to work to gain greater market access especially into China, Russia and India for our numerous high value agricultural products, ” she said, adding that “due to the initial uncertainty of how coronavirus was transmitted, major food exporting and importing countries (including some of our BRICS partners) understandably decided to impose bans on various food products including grain exports. South Africa also initially closed her ports,” Mabuza said.
“Production plants were closed in parts of the world all at a time when the world was still reeling from the effects of the US-China trade war. Widespread job losses resulted in a rise in food insecurity especially during the harder lockdown in countries like South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi. The suspension of schooling during the harder lockdown phases resulted in the shutdown of feeding schemes run by churches and schools, exacerbating the situation. The South Africa government responded with a massive targeted social grants programme that thankfully averted a humanitarian disaster of hunger and poverty,” said Mabuza.
“Most governments have responded to the food scarcity challenge by increasing grains imports as well as seeking new opportunities for local sourcing. Durable policy interventions need to foster and support intra-Africa trade as well as trade with nations such as the BRIC nations. Domestically, there are efforts to strengthen the support for rural communities to produce more and invest in infrastructure for them to get their produce to markets,” she said. Mabuza also commended the World Trade Organization on leadership developments. “The leadership changes at the World Trade Organisation are welcome, and offer a fresh opportunity for further liberalisation of agricultural trade. We should seize this moment. Otherwise, we might not be lucky if the pandemic endures beyond 2022. “
In terms of South Africa’s and the continent’s vaccine drive, Mabuza said:
“South Africa is in a better position as far as supplies are concerned and the vaccine availability has improved markedly our government joining hands with the private sector to make it widely accessible. In the same breath. I mourn the fact that this is not the case for other parts of the continent. We welcome the $600 million pledge by governments of France, Germany and the US and the World Bank to support Aspen, one of our pharmaceutical companies, to produce the Johnson & Johnson vaccines for the rest of the continent.”