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16 Oct 2015 00:00
Fresh produce being sorted into boxes for dsitribution, Abalimi Bezekhaya pack shed. (Photo: David Harrison)
South Africa’s high level of food insecurity stems from a direct link between poverty and access to food. Half of the population suffers as a direct result: 14 million because they cannot afford food, and another 15 million because they have to skip meals to make ends meet.
The solutions on a large scale are to give food security more prominence, with civil society groups pushing for an Act that would ensure concerns about food security are included in all decision-making. But on a smaller scale there are many effective solutions that individuals and communities can implement. The Mail & Guardian has listed a few:
Community food gardens used to be normal in rural areas, where people with arable land grew food and bartered different kinds of staple foods with people within their communities. But half of the South African population now lives in urban areas, and this percentage is constantly increasing. Most of these people are forced to stay in small yards where there is no space to grow any kind of food. More affluent suburbs, however, have a great deal more space in which to grow food. Gardens, kerbs and open areas — coupled with steady supplies of water — offer a quick solution to help tackle food security. Many suburbs already have strip gardens along their pavements. Larger examples of these could not only lower the costs of buying vegetables for those growing the gardens, but ensure that people passing by can take healthy food back to their families.
Trees are often the first thing to be cut down when people are forced to live in cramped conditions, where firewood is one way to survive winter. This means older settlements — as well as new areas, where government is building social housing — do not have fruit trees. This could be changed with a massive government scheme, ensuring that new tree planting initiatives include a hefty mix of fruit trees. Fruit tends to be the most expensive of the nutritious foods that people leave out of their food basket each month when costs have to be cut. On a smaller scale, tens of thousands of people move through urban areas when travelling to and from work. Fruit trees planted on verges and in gardens could add vital nutrition to family food baskets.
Where time and labour are not options for helping with food insecurity, there are dozens of organisations which need donations to carry out their own food security work. These range from neighbourhood soup kitchens to national food garden networks. All of these help reduce the impact of malnutrition.
While South Africa may be officially classed as food secure, because on average there is enough food for its 53 million citizens, the reality is that much of that food is consumed in the wealthier segments of society. On average, a quarter of all the food bought in South Africa is wasted and thrown away. A mind-set change is required: “undesirable” food can be turned into compost or refrigerated and then given to people who would otherwise not have a meal. Networks already exist to facilitate the latter.
Government has made huge progress in addressing food insecurity in the last 20 years. But it is currently not dealing with a growing number of factors that place pressure on the country’s ability to produce staple foods, such as allowing mining on agricultural land and in water catchment areas. Chief among the goals of civil society should be guiding government towards creating a Food Security Act. This would ensure that the impact of any development is weighed against the imperative to ensure the country has enough food.
Use purchasing power to stop price fixing
Collusion is widespread in South Africa. In the food industry this means that businesses agree on set prices for foodstuffs. This has a large-scale, negative impact on people who cannot afford to eat the food they require to stay healthy. In the case of the bread cartel this meant the price of a critical source of daily nutrition was inflated, while the perpetrators, when caught, were given a token fine. By changing shopping habits to withhold buying from producers that have been found guilty of price fixing, consumers can reward companies that price their food at the correct level.
Reduce your carbon footprint
Climate change is already affecting farming output in South Africa. Commercial farmers are in their second year of an unprecedented drought, which many subsistence farmers will be unable to survive. Rainfall patterns are changing and planting seasons are rapidly altering. This will only get worse if carbon emissions continue unabated. Small changes at every level —coupled with those on a national and international scale – will secure future crop yields.
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