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Could game meat boost South Africa’s food security?

October 15, 2022
topic:Food Security
tags:#South Africa, #animal hunting, #food security, #biodiversity
located:South Africa
by:Cyril Zenda
Food insecure South Africa is plotting to put part of its 24 million head of game on the national menu - a move that has drawn both support and critique.

The South African government invited in July stakeholder comments to a draft law that seeks to allow game meat to be sold on supermarket shelves.

If passed, the law, which looks to promote the commercial exploitation of the country’s abundant wildlife resources, would put game including impala, kudu, antelope, wildebeest and springbok on the menu for most South Africans.

South Africa's Forestry, Fisheries and Environment minister Barbara Creecy says the bill reflects a well-thought-out, seven-goal strategy aimed at creating a formalised and transformed game meat industry in South Africa, which would, according to her, contribute to food security and sustainable socio-economic growth.

The bill has been cheered as a "real crowd pleaser" by many in South Africa - a country in which millions cannot afford food. It has also, however, drawn harsh criticism, as many fear that its enactment could result in mass extinction of species and increased cruelty towards animals.

One In Ten Starving

Despite being Africa’s second largest economy, South Africa is facing a worsening food crisis, with statistics showing that one in every ten citizens goes to bed on an empty stomach.

According to a 2021 research by the Borgen Project, about 11 percent of South Africa’s nearly 60 million people suffer from hunger and food insecurity, with the causes ranging from conflict, socio-political instability and the changing climate to poverty and population growth. 

Many social analysts point to deep-rooted inequality as the source of the country's swelling food insecurity, and some fear that recurrent upheavals - including the July 2021 wave of violence - in South Africa are linked to some of these socio-economic factors.

Game Meat And Food Security

In the draft law, the government states that the introduction of game meat to the formal market would contribute to the country’s food security.

"Albeit significant efforts that have been embarked on by the State to promote food security, 25.5 percent of our citizens are living below the poverty line, of which most struggle to feed themselves," the paper reads.

"Game meat is a significant source of protein for South Africans. As SA is an importer of protein, thus not meeting own national protein demand, the increase of another healthy protein source in the market could contribute positively to food security," it further reads.

"Considering the challenging circumstances of how to 'feed the nation,' the game meat industry could invariably play a major role in improved food security.

"Based on the lack of data and statistics about the flow of game meat into the market, it is difficult to state how much game meat are consumed by impoverished families."

Support from ranching industry, NGOs

Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA), a body representing the country’s over 10,000 game ranches, has broadly supported the move, claiming it would make wildlife farming a viable business.

"Game meat, more specifically game ranching, has a crucial role to play in poverty alleviation and food security," the group said in its presentation on the draft law. "It is imperative that enabling legislation is developed to ensure the growth of the wildlife economy."

Andy Du Plessis, the managing director of FoodForward South Africa, a no-profit that fights hunger in the country, also believes that game meat can help rectify the country’s precarious food situation. 

"If there is surplus game throughout the game meat value chain because of overbreeding, culling etc., then it’s a good idea to use this meat to address food insecurity, to supplement what organisations like FoodForward SA already provide," Du Plessis wrote to FairPlanet.

"Protein sources, which are very expensive, are desperately needed because South Africa has the highest rate of child malnutrition in the world," he went on, "and due to large-scale unemployment and a weak economy, we have a growing food insecurity / cost of living crisis."

Stiff Opposition From Conservationists

Animal welfare and environmental groups, however, warn that the bill overlooks key risks to wildlife and biodiversity.  

Fiona Miles, the director of FOUR PAWS, an animal welfare organisation in South Africa, said that while the Draft White Paper on Conservation and the Sustainable Use of Biodiversity (issued together with the Draft Game Meat Strategy) outlines steps that are progressive for conservation, the Draft Game Meat Strategy on the other hand is unacceptable, as it advocates "for industrial scale breeding, farming, and slaughter of wild animals."

In a statement shared with FairPlanet, Miles said: "These are two deeply conflicting trajectories. There is a distinct lack of inclusion in the proposals of the Draft Game Meat Strategy of principles of animal sentience, welfare and wellbeing as proposed in the Department’s own Draft White Paper on Conservation and the Sustainable Use of Biodiversity." 

She pointed out that increasing South Africa’s role in the global game meat production as proposed by the Draft Game Meat Strategy would inevitably raise the likelihood of risks associated with large scale game meat production, such as  higher transmission rates of zoonotic diseases. 

"The Department must seek sustainable solutions to economic development, job security, and sectoral transformation," the statement further reads. "Ensuring solutions [to] minimise biodiversity loss and mitigate climate change, for example, is imperative to achieve long-term development in these areas - rather than short-term wins."

'Withdraw The Draft Law'

The EMS Foundation, a social justice non-governmental organisation involved in the advancement and protection of the rights and general welfare of wild animals, children, elderly persons and other vulnerable groups in South Africa and Africa, has since launched a campaign to get the draft law withdrawn altogether.

"Increasing South Africa’s role in the global game meat production as proposed by the Draft Game Meat Strategy, will increase the risks associated with the transmission of zoonotic diseases," the foundation said in a summarised version of the 47-page statement endorsed by 23 like-minded organisations that it submitted to the department. 

"The Draft document is fundamentally flawed and has the potential to kill millions of wild animals, which is harmfulboth to the environment and could negatively affect human rightsin South Africa. This Draft should be withdrawn in its entirety."

'Harness Wasted Food'

As the tussle over the fate of South African game is gaining steam, Du Plessis believes that another viable way to improve the country’s food security in the meantime would be to harness the vast amounts of food that goes to waste.

"While under certain circumstances the draft may assist in combatting food insecurity, the department’s focus should shift to the 10 million tonnes of good quality food that is lost or wasted throughout the food / consumer goods value chain," he told FairPlanet. 

"If we can intercept this food in time, we can more meaningfully address food insecurity while saving the environment from harmful CO2 emissions." 

Image by David Tomaseti.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
South Africa
Embed from Getty Images
"Game meat, more specifically game ranching, has a crucial role to play in poverty alleviation and food security."
© John Wessels / Stringer
Embed from Getty Images
The law would put game including Impala, Kudu, Antelope, Wildebeest and Springbok on the menu for most South Africans.
© Bloomberg / Contributor
Embed from Getty Images
Animal welfare and environmental groups warn that the bill overlooks key risks to wildlife and biodiversity. 
© Werner Layer
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