By Nompumelelo Runji
South Africa has an abundance of food, but there are households that do not have adequate access to food to meet their daily nutritional requirements and go hungry. Why is this and what can be done to address this challenge? This was the focus of the Business Day Dialogues Live in association with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and the Ecumenical Foundation Southern Africa.
While food security has been defined as having sufficient access to safe and nutritious food, at all times, agricultural economist Thabi Nkosi highlighted how the definition has evolved to recognise the interrelationship between accessibility, availability, utilization and stability – the four pillars of food security.
With tons of food going to landfills daily, availability of food is not the primary reason millions of people are going hungry. According to Crispin Sonn, Chairman of Food Forward SA which feeds more than 500 000 people daily, the problem lies in the supply chain.
Food Forward SA works to distribute surplus produce, as well good quality food that can no longer be kept on shop shelves, to people that need the meals. They do this by improving the efficiency of the supply chain through collaboration with farmers, retailers and beneficiary organisations.
“Ironically, Covid has been good for surfacing the need and it has actually forced people to find mechanisms to distribute food”, said Sonn.
He emphasized the need to separate the issues of support for small scale farming and food security, given that the former is about diversifying supply chains for social change while the latter is mostly about removing inefficiency in the supply chain. In Sonn’s words, “My contention is that if we are going to deal with food security in the short to medium term, we have to recognize that we have sufficient [food], we have an abundance of food in our system to feed every South African everyday currently, and have had that surplus since the 1970s. So, if you’re dealing with food security, the challenge is that the value chain is not working efficiently”, said Sonn.
The broad consensus is that collaboration between business, civil society and government is crucial to addressing hunger. However, what is up for debate is the measures that should be adopted in the short, medium and long term to alleviate hunger and poverty at household level.
Solving food insecurity over the medium and longer term requires a structural perspective beyond the food system. “Unsurprisingly, a lot of people experiencing food insecurity are in rural areas and areas where there isn’t a lot of economic activity. We need to have interventions that really solve the bigger problem of unemployment and social safety nets within those particular communities, because ultimately what we find is that poverty in this country tends to be concentrated in the areas of the Eastern Cape, KZN, Limpopo, and these are areas where unemployment levels are sometimes in excess of 40%, where households tend to be quite big, where education levels tend to be quite low. So, when we start to address these issues of employment, to address these issues of improving the quality of education we’ll start to see a change. But I think piecemeal interventions, focusing solely on providing food aren’t necessarily going to provide long-term solutions”, argued Nkosi.
Nelis agreed that it “is not sustainable to feed a nation, 10 or 11 or 20% of a growing nation [continuously through mechanisms like food parcels or reducing supply chain waste], and it’s not sufficient even though programmes like Food Forward are so efficient. It’s not enough for what we need in our country, and it will never be enough… Of course, it’s important to give food to people who are hungry. But we also have to change direction and look at sustainability, have a long-term vision and try and educate people to sustain their own means of living.”
To re-watch the discussion, click here