The contribution of subsistence farming to food security in South Africa
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Poor households access their food from the market, subsistence production and transfers from public programmes or other households. In the past rural households produced most of their own food, but recent studies have shown an increase in dependence on market purchases by both urban and rural households, in some cases reaching 90% of the food supplies. Food expenditures can account for as much as 60-80% of total household income for low-income households in some parts of sub-saharan Africa. Subsistence/smallholder agriculture can play an important role in reducing the vulnerability of rural and urban food-insecure households, improving livelihoods, and helping to mitigate high food price inflation. There is a need to significantly increase the productivity of subsistence/smallholder agriculture and ensure long-term food security. This can be achieved by encouraging farmers to pursue sustainable intensification of production through the use of improved inputs. This will require a dramatic increase in the use of fertiliser, organic inputs and conservation investments, combined with the development of well-functioning input and output markets to help farmers acquire and use improved inputs, market their (surplus) output and reduce transaction costs and risks. Increased productivity will reduce pressure on marginal lands, as the intensification of cultivated land will reduce pressure to crop fragile marginal lands. There is a need to determine methods of identifying cost-effective ways to improve access to inputs by, among other things, improving delivery, and assisting farmers to earn cash to purchase inputs and invest in infrastructure, thereby improving food security.