Working Paper
The Political Economy of Food Price Policy in South Africa

This paper analyses the food price trends in South Africa during two periods of rapid food price inflation that occurred in the decade 2000–10 and unpacks the political reaction and policy responses to the food price crises in these two periods. Based on personal recollection of events during the past decade, interviews with former politicians and state officials, as well as a thorough investigation of relevant cabinet and government documents it is concluded that agricultural and food policy in South Africa remained largely unchanged with no controls or regulations introduced. The South African state has maintained since 1998 a substantive social welfare programme reaching the poorest 20 per cent of the South African population, which has provided an important safety net during periods of high food prices. The South African government nevertheless implemented a set of ‘second class’ interventions that mostly target the poorer section of the population in an attempt to mitigate the negative effects of price changes and include elements such as food parcels, agricultural starter packs, and vegetable gardens.