Joint Publications

Corporate power in the agrofood system and South Africa’s consumer food environment

Published 23 May 2016, by Stephen Greenberg

Publication: PLAAS Working Paper 32

This report maps the extent of corporate power in the South African agro-food system using a value chain approach. It identifies major corporate actors in the various nodes of the agro-food system as of 2014. Some nodes tend to be dominated by corporations, for example input supply, grain storage and handling, and feedlots for commercial livestock. Other nodes have a strong corporate core but there is also a wide periphery, for example agricultural production, food manufacturing, wholesale and retail and consumer food service. The large periphery of marginalised actors in some parts of the system point to possible areas of intervention to boost livelihoods by supporting economic activity in the periphery. Although there are pockets of concentrated power in the system as a whole, there is also some distribution of power across nodes as well as between commodities. Vertical integration is less prevalent than in the past. The report looks at governance in the food system, the expansion of corporate self-regulation, and the implications for food security and nutrition. Corporations have immense power 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.

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