Food insecurity in South Africa demands urgent attention and requires a multi-faceted approach with a comprehensive strategy involving various stakeholders, Executive Director of the Do More Foundation Warren Farrer says.
It is crucial to recognise that young children bear the brunt of this issue, with child malnutrition often being a forgotten consequence of inaction, Farrer adds.
Food insecurity in South Africa
According to the Measuring Food Security in South Africa report: Applying the Food Insecurity Experience Scale 2019, even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of the same year, 17.3% of South Africans were affected by moderate to severe food insecurity, while 7.0% experienced severe food insecurity.
These numbers dramatically increased during 2020 at the height of COVID-19, reaching 23.6% for moderate to severe food insecurity and 14.9% for severe food insecurity. “We ignore these reports at our peril, as they will have long-lasting consequences,” warns Farrer.
Many families still live in dire poverty and low-resourced communities with limited access to sufficient nutritious food. Countrywide unemployment and continued job losses post-2020 have meant that the public’s pockets have been tightened to such an extent that even the most basic of needs is a budget stretch, causing families to seek food that costs less, regardless of the nutritional value.
Last year, the Household Affordability Index, compiled by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group (PMBEJD), found that the child support grant of R480 was 28% below the food poverty line of R663 and 43% below the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet. Barriers such as environmental challenges and perceptions also often hinder families from starting their own gardens.
Adding to the financial burden, load-shedding and climbing interest rates contribute to skyrocketing food prices. The same PMBEJD index indicated that households are paying over R500 more for an average food basket compared to the previous year. “Regardless of the source, children have the right to nutrition,” asserts Farrier. “Food prices may seem far removed from a children’s rights issue, but it is in fact, critical to any discussion on sustainable development moving forward.”
The government has made various attempts to tackle the hunger crisis. However, Farrer urges that their response to food insecurity should include scaling policies and national nutrition programmes to cater to the right of all citizens to sufficient nutritious food and clean water, as enshrined in the South African Bill of Rights. “Adequate funding provision and strong leadership are essential in achieving this goal,” he adds.
A recent example highlighting the significance of these factors is the regrettable delay in food provision by the National School Nutrition Scheme (NSNP) to over 5,000 schools in KZN, directly impacting more than 2 million pupils who rely on this vital feeding scheme. Failing to prioritise children in these programs has had far-reaching consequences, impacting their lives indefinitely.
Targeted nutrition education to promote child health and dietary diversity is crucial for optimal brain development and to reduce the risk of stunting from the age of six months. Unfortunately, a recent stunting survey by Grow Great in Mpumalanga’s Ehlanzeni community showed that only seven out of 100 children aged 6-23 months consumed more than five food groups in 24 hours. On average, children in Ehlanzeni eat from just three different food groups a day, contradicting the Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs) for South Africa, which advises a variety of foods.
“The urgent need for mutual cooperation to implement policies and programmes that address the underlying causes of food insecurity are undeniable, concludes Farrer. “We have to act now to promote sustainable agriculture, improve livelihoods, and provide social support for the most vulnerable in our society, our children.”