Government urged to act to stop food insecurity crisis

A baby spinach bed at a farm. Picture: Mark Elias/Bloomberg

A baby spinach bed at a farm. Picture: Mark Elias/Bloomberg

Published Oct 29, 2023


Mpho Rantao

SOUTH Africa is still struggling with food insecurity as almost 50% of its people could go hungry.

Shoprite, the biggest grocery retailer in the country, shows in its latest food index report that 48.96% of South Africans might not have enough food by 2025.

This is a small drop from the alarming 52% in 2020, but the problem is not over yet.

A report by the World Data Lab released in October found that food insecurity is particularly grave in Limpopo province, where 54% of the population is food insecure.

Gauteng was behind at 47%, followed by the Eastern Cape at 46%.

The Western Cape has the lowest rate of food insecurity, at 41%.

It is important to note that food insecurity is disproportionately concentrated in urban areas within the Western Cape.

“Food insecurity is a ticking time bomb in South Africa. We need to act now to address this crisis or we will face serious consequences,” said Dr Jacqueline Joubert, an economist and food security expert.

Food insecurity has a devastating impact on individuals and communities.

It can lead to malnutrition, stunted growth, and impaired cognitive development, especially in children. It can also fuel social unrest and violence.

Several factors contribute to food insecurity in South Africa, including poverty, high unemployment rates, stark inequality, the effects of climate change, and the exacerbation of the issue by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Additionally, the conflict in Ukraine, a major exporter of agricultural products, has led to higher food prices and reduced food availability in South Africa.

Malnutrition, particularly in children, is one of the dire consequences of food insecurity. This condition can lead to stunted growth, cognitive impairments, and an increased risk of chronic diseases.

Moreover, food insecurity often results in hunger, leading to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism from school and work, and higher crime rates.

Social unrest and violence are not uncommon outcomes of hunger-induced desperation.

“Food insecurity is a complex problem, and there is no easy solution. However, we believe that everyone has a role to play in addressing this issue," said Food Forward SA CEO Andy du Plessis.

“We encourage individuals and businesses to donate to food banks and other charitable organisations that are working to feed the hungry. We also encourage people to reduce food waste and support sustainable agriculture.”

Addressing food insecurity is a complex challenge that requires a multifaceted approach.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have said that the government must invest in social safety nets and agricultural development.

“Food insecurity is a major concern in South Africa, and it is one that we are deeply committed to addressing,” said Shoprite CEO Pieter Engelbrecht in response to the Shoprite report.

“We are working with our suppliers and partners to donate food to those in need, and we are also supporting initiatives that are working to develop sustainable food systems.”

South Africa produces food that exceeds the population’s needs, but more than half of the population has little to no access.

While the South African government has taken steps to address food insecurity, more action is needed to tackle its root causes, such as poverty and inequality.

In recognition of World Food Day (October 16), Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development Thoko Didiza echoed the call from NGOs and social activists to provide food and nutrition security and said that it would require a multifaceted approach with governments, businesses, and individuals.

Past measures by government have included garden inputs, community farms, and food parcels for vulnerable communities, but these were seen as short-term measures that didn't address the structural issues.

The government published an Integrated Food Security Strategy for South Africa which outlined its vision, goals, and actions to achieve food security, but the strategy was planned to run until 2023.

The aim of the strategy was to improve food availability, accessibility, affordability, and quality, as well as nutrition outcomes across the country.

Some critics have argued that the government has not prioritised food security in its recent policies and plans and has relied on private sector initiatives and civil society organisations to address the root causes of hunger and poverty.

Sunday Independent sent questions to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development but received no response at the time of print.

Organisations like Feed the Nation, Food Forward SA, and SA Harvest, among others, emphasised that South Africans could combat food insecurity through several steps.

Their steps include organising food drives in communities and workplaces, creating communal produce farms, and donating non-perishable foods to charities or charitable organisations.

“Food insecurity is a human rights issue. Everyone has the right to food,” Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, said.

This issue is not a unique problem to South Africa but a growing crisis across the world.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on governments to rapidly mitigate the crisis, which he acknowledged was affected by conflict and climate change.