Conversation with Tracy Ledger on her book ‘An Empty Plate’

Tracy Ledger is a South African researcher in the field of economic development, with 25 years of research experience. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of the Witwatersrand and a Master’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Stellenbosch University. She is an agrifood activist, believing that a more equitable agri-food system is fundamental to building a more equitable society.

During the conversation Ledger asked: “Why is it that food prices are so high that millions of South African families go hungry, while the prices paid to farmers for the same food are so low that many cannot stay in business? Why are the people who produce our food – farmworkers – among the most insecure of all? Why do high levels of rural poverty persist while corporate profits in the food sector keep rising? How did a country with a constitutional right to food become a place where 1 in 4 children is malnourished and classified as stunted?”

She highlighted the shocking news that in November 2011, four children from one family died from starvation and dehydration in the veld, in South Africa, a middleincome country. The children, from the Mmupele family, ranged from two to nine years; and died after following their farmworker mother in search of food. The question is: how is it possible that in a fertile region known as the heart of South Africa’s maize triangle, that those who grow our staple food could have succumbed to such a tragic dark-age fate?

Ledger said that according to the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign (SAFSC), 53% of the South African population do not have enough food; and about 14 million people go to bed hungry every night. She added that lowincome households spend on sugar, flour and maize meal, foods that do not provide nutritional value. “Today, food insecurity is widespread and hunger is a common experience among those who live and work on South Africa’s commercial agricultural plantations. One of the ultimate perversities of our era is that the producers of food and their children often go to bed hungry. Growth stunting as a result of malnutrition is most marked among the children of farm workers.”, Ledger said.

Nosipho Mdletshe, from Khanya College said: “This is an eye opener into the agricultural industry. I didn’t know why food is so expensive. It is sad to know that many families go to bed without any food”.

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