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Food and Radical Economic Transformation

Touch the Soil News #701

Far away in South Africa, people are trying to re-invent the economy, much like elsewhere in the world. Called the eThekwini Municipality, this urban region is the gateway to Africa as it is the busiest seaport of the African continent. This municipality of 3.5 million people was formed out of a group of independent local councils and tribal lands back in 2000.

In a rather unusual move – compared to other cities around the world – the eThekwini Municipality just made a bid (USD $1.7 million) to buy two chicken farms from a larger chicken company that was going out of business. The city already supports several chicken and fresh produce farming cooperatives.

The primary focus of the city is to alleviate unemployment and poverty amongst its 3.5 million residents. The city has a name for its efforts to create employment using the food chain as a platform: Radical Agrarian Socioeconomic Transformation Programme. While it is a mouthful, the economic concept is different from anything from the past – Municipal support to create co-operatives for the primary purpose of job creation. Normally this function is delegated to national governments. Following are some of the reasons officials of the eThekwini Municipality give for getting involved in job creation:

  1. The need to alleviate the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality is very great.
  2. Job creation is central to alleviating poverty, unemployment and inequality.
  3. Poverty, unemployment and inequality have gone on for so long and are so chronic that “radical” is the approach that needs to be taken as opposed to business as usual.

Premier Willies Mchunu, of the KwaZulu-Natal province within which the eThekwini Municipality is located has a mouthful to say: “As the province with the second largest contribution to the national economy (of the nation of South Africa), the need to ensure that the call for radical economic transformation does not only remain a slogan, but it should find practical expression in our government and private sector programmes”.

It should be noted that the unemployment rate in South Africa is a whopping 27.1 percent. In the U.S. the official unemployment rate is under 5 percent. However, the Bureau of Labor reports what it calls the U-6 unemployment rate which is around 10 percent. This is the real unemployment rate as it includes all categories of unemployment. Other unofficial estimates of U.S. unemployment can be as high as 20 percent.

Does this “employment versus welfare” experiment by the eThekwini Municipality have application in other nations or around the world? What is important to note is that many efforts at food and economic reform center around the food chain itself.

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