Food Insecurity in South Africa

As middle class working South Africans, we are privileged to be able to decide what we want to eat, have easy access to the most nutritious options, and to decide where we want to shop (WoolworthsPick n Pay? Spar? Checkers?). The same is not the case for those who do not have the necessary resources to access food.

What is food insecurity? And is there a difference between household and national food insecurity in South Africa? Most importantly, what actions can we adopt to fix this problem in this country?

Internationally, food security is defined as the ability of people to secure adequate food. According to the World Food Summit (organised in Rome in 1996), food security exists when all people of all types have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active life.

According to The Department of agriculture, forestry and fishery, to give a definition of food insecurity we need to divide it into 3 dimensions:

  1. Food Availability: Which speaks to the fact that a country must have sufficient quantities of food available on a consistent basis at both national and household level.
  2. Food Access: Implies the ability of a nation and its households to acquire sufficient food on a sustainable basis.
  3. Food Use: Food use refers to the appropriate use of food based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care, as well as adequate water and sanitation.

The national food self-sufficiency index illustrates that South Africa is food self-sufficient or self-sufficient in almost all the major food products, with the ability to import shortages when necessary.

This means that South Africa seems to be food secure at national level, which is great, but the same cannot be said about households in various areas around the country. A number of households are still battling to sustain themselves. Over the recent months, we have witnessed a drought that has been said to be the worst drought in 23 years. This has resulted in extreme increases in food pricing and therefore making it difficult for certain groups of people to access food. According to an article by the City Press, South African farmers could see themselves losing over R10 billion this year.

How do we fix this, not just as a country, but on a global scale?  Other countries also have food insecurity issues (even the United States, which, for all intents and purposes, is the wealthiest nation in the world). Will we ever get to a state where what our Earth produces can be equally distributed?  Or, even better, can we reach a state where all communities have the capacity to control their own food pipeline?

We can start locally; as households and communities we can learn ways of ensuring food security on a small-scale. In countries like Kenya; they have implemented projects around sack-gardens. Closer to home is our very own is Simanye Sky Farms (in association with Bjala), a project focused at implementing urban farming projects in Johannesburg CBD.   The skyfarms are designed to offer low cost fresh produce to the communities that live below the gardens themselves, thereby keeping fresh produce local, cost-effective, and energy and water efficient in new places never before considered.

We have also identified a number of other ways in which we can decrease food insecurity in South Africa as a nation. These include honouring comparative advantage to local farmers, enabling open markets to trade, fostering cooperation between public and private sectors, encouraging investment in agriculture, harmonizing food safety standards for free trade, embracing technology and advancing African agriculture and encouraging businesses around farming, logistics and preservation of food.

There really isn’t a one size fits all solution that will eradicate food insecurity in South Africa, but there must be a way to redistribute food and rethink how to handle issues surrounding passive food waste if we are as a country already creating enough to feed every man, woman and child. There isn’t a magic bullet that will end all hunger, but if innovative techniques are applied, the numbers of people starving and suffering from food insecurity should drop dramatically. All that’s needed are concerted efforts to re-think food consumption on both a household, business and government level.

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