Corporate power in the agro-food system and the consumer food environment in South Africa

By Stephen Greenberg, February 2017

This contribution maps the South African agro-food system with a focus on corporate ownership and power, inspired by value chain work applied to the food system as a a whole. Corporations tend to dominate some nodes, for example input supply, grain storage and handling, and feedlots. Other nodes have a corporate core but with a wide number of smaller economic actors, for example agricultural production, food manufacturing, wholesale and retail, and consumer food service. This wide number of actors points to possible areas of intervention to boost livelihoods by supporting their economic activities. The paper considers the influence of corporations in structuring consumer perceptions on food quality and health, from input into apparently neutral dietary-based guidelines to advertising. Financialisation in the food system, including the institutionalisation of share ownership and the rise of agri-investment companies, and the multi-nationalisation of South African agro-food capital especially into Africa, have implications for the ability of the nation state to regulate activities in the agro-food system. The paper concludes with some recommendations for further work