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Opportunities and Challenges for a Just Transition in the South African Food System: Insights from the Beef Industry

Jointly developed by the IEJ and the East Cape Agricultural Research Project (ECARP), this wide-ranging and extensive working paper explores the challenges and opportunities for a just transition in South Africa’s food system, focusing on the beef industry. It examines the prevailing architecture, power dynamics, and policy frameworks through literature review, industry documents, and interviews with key stakeholders. The learnings from the focus on beef production highlight the need for a transition that addresses social inequalities, improves working conditions, enhances resilience to climate change, and seeks to achieve and balance multiple objectives rather than a singular pursuit of growth.

THE NEED FOR A JUST TRANSITION

South Africa’s food system exhibits stark inequalities, such as food insecurity, malnutrition, and precarious labour conditions. With agriculture contributing significantly to climate change and being vulnerable to its impacts, a just transition is essential. This involves reducing ecological impacts, increasing resilience, and addressing socio-economic inequalities.

THE BEEF WITH CATTLE AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Cattle and beef production is a key case study due to its intersection with climate change and its role in providing jobs and livelihoods. While livestock are major global emissions sources, beef production is vital for South African employment. Policies for a just transition must balance ecological considerations with socio-economic needs.

THE SYSTEM OF PROVISION FOR BEEF

South Africa ranks as the 11th largest beef producer globally, with high per capita consumption. However, this masks deep inequalities. The beef system features a dichotomy between large-scale commercial production and smallholder farming, reflecting broader agrarian inequalities.

INEQUALITY AND LIVELIHOODS IN THE BEEF INDUSTRY

Farm workers in the beef industry face low wages and insecure livelihoods, exacerbated by their lack of bargaining power. Similarly, smallholder farmers struggle with market access and productivity, compounded by limited resources and infrastructure.

ENVIRONMENTAL DIMENSIONS OF THE SYSTEM OF PROVISION

Intensive beef production in South Africa has significant ecological impacts, particularly regarding water and grain use for animal feed. Climate change further affects cattle health, impacting food security and household incomes. Wealth disparities among farmers influence their adaptive capacities, highlighting the need for equitable policy interventions.

A JUST TRANSITION IN THE BEEF SYSTEM OF PROVISION

The beef industry lacks a coordinated response to climate change. While some practices like regenerative grazing show promise, they often overlook labour conditions. A market-led growth strategy fails to address deep-rooted inequalities and ecological concerns.

CHALLENGES FOR A FOOD SYSTEM JUST TRANSITION

The beef and cattle system’s dynamics highlight challenges such as market-centred policies, entrenched power relations, and labour market structures. Addressing these issues requires strategic interventions to shift momentum towards a just transition.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR A JUST TRANSITION

Identifying challenges also reveals opportunities for action. Enhancing connections across civil society, advocating for transformative policies, and shifting narratives within the food system are crucial steps. Deepening knowledge and practice can further support a just transition.

By addressing these opportunities and challenges, South Africa can move towards a more equitable and sustainable food system, ensuring a just transition for all stakeholders in the beef industry and beyond.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

  • Dr Andrew Bennie is the Climate Policy and Food Systems Senior Researcher at the IEJ.
  • Dr Lalitha Naidoo is the Director of ECARP.
  • Dr Andrew Bowman is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh.
  • Asandi Sandi is the Programmes Manager at ECARP.

Opportunities and Challenges for a Just Transition in the South African Food System: Insights from the Beef Industry

Jointly developed by the IEJ and ECARP, this wide-ranging and extensive working paper explores the challenges and opportunities for a just transition in South Africa’s food system, focusing on the beef industry. It examines the prevailing architecture, power dynamics,...

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