Today marks World Food Safety Day, which aims to create awareness and inspire action for people to get involved in alleviating and managing food-borne risks, contributing to economic prosperity, tourism, sustainable development, over-all health and agriculture.

We caught up with Andile Ngcobo, who is a young farmer and manager of KZN-based Tusokuhle farm to share his insights on the current state of food safety in the South African agricultural landscape

Q. What are some of the Food risks that South Africa may be facing currently?

South Africa has experienced drought in the past five years. The amount of produce that South Africa had, with regards to sugar, was quite low. Therefore, we had to rely on imports. Since the imports are much cheaper because countries outside of South Africa get subsidised by their governments such as Argentina and Brazil, they can afford to produce at a cheaper rate than we can, which is a problem. When the cheaper imports started coming in, and consumers became accustomed to them, the South African market became crippled. The sugarcane price dropped and farmers lost a lot of profit. So much that a lot of farmers pulled-out from sugarcane and moved to other industries. 

In the vegetable production perspective, it was a climatic condition. We usually plant cabbage in winter months, sometimes in summer, however, last year November/December we experienced hail throughout the country and this damaged a lot of crops completely.

Q. What systems do farmers need to have in place in order to ensure that the food that they produce, doesn’t get contaminated?

In the vegetable production system, you need to make sure that you don’t have people coming in and out of different fields because diseases and seeds can be simply carried by, say, the tires of a car. This can contaminate the land with things like weeds and weeds harvest pests which can damage our crops. So, you want to avoid that by stopping the amount of traffic that comes in and out of the farm.

We have a spray programme to ensure that we cover our crops, safe from contamination, and protect them from Fungi, as well as unpredictable weather conditions. Change in weather can cause rotting in fresh produce

Q. Is there support from government?

In agriculture, it is difficult for government to support because there are various enterprises within agriculture. So, encompassing all these different avenues; there would have to be a single type of subsidy structure. For example, it would help if government subsidised fuel costs because of the high cost – at least by half, or incentivised farmers by not having to pay the full minimum wage

Q. How has COVID 19 impacted food safety?

It has to some extent, even though we haven’t seen it directly. We haven’t seen a single day of lockdown as farmers. We have been working from day 1. We only saw this when our crops’ value was lowered so that we can meet the demands of the market when lockdown rules were eased

Q. For people with small gardens, what can they do to improve the quality of their plants/food?

They can plant good quality seeds. Sound management is also important as you need to be present and watch over your garden. You need to monitor things like moths flying around, if they are it means they probably laid eggs, which will grow into worms – so you have to spray over all your plantation to make sure they don’t get damaged or contaminated. Also, don’t throw out all of your peels from organic food that you eat. You can always have a compost keeping. Lastly, have an integrated planting method that will allow for a more natural response.