FOUR out of 10 households in Cape Town’s poor areas go without food at least once a week because they do not have enough money to buy it.
This emerged from research by UCT’s African Food Security Urban Network, a programme in the university’s African Centre for Cities, which looked at people’s ability to feed themselves in Khayelitsha, Philippi and Ocean View.
Researcher Jane Battersby-Lennard said food insecurity in Cape Town reflected a major problem worldwide.
“It’s the canary down the mineshaft, an indication there is something wrong with the food system globally.”
The researchers sampled 1 060 households in the three areas. They found that eight out of 10 households had gone without food in the six months prior to their research. In Khayelitsha and Philippi, fewer than one in 10 households were “food secure” and in Ocean View three out of 10 were food secure.
People are regarded as “food secure” if they have physical and economic access to enough nutritious food to lead a healthy life.
Battersby-Lennard said when they began the research they had been surprised at how bad the situation was.
“Our biggest surprise is how little policy or political attention there is to the urban food problem,” she said.
About 60 percent of the population lived in cities and towns. Researchers found that food prices were outstripping the inflation rate and that the poor had less chance of buying food cheaply than the city’s rich have. The city’s richer inhabitants are able to cut food prices somewhat by buying in bulk at supermarkets, which can sell more cheaply because of high turnover. There are seven times more supermarkets in the city’s wealthier areas than in the poor areas.
“Spaza shops and street traders are more expensive than supermarkets.”
Other factors which influenced the poor’s choice of food included:
l the increasing cost of electricity for cooking.
l lack of access to refrigeration.
l the cost of public transport to shops and supermarkets.
l the amount of groceries that could be carried on foot or in public transport.
“In our first survey we looked at diet diversity and found that it was low. The staples were some form of cereal or rice, with a very limited amounts of more nutritional foods. There was a lot of highly processed food, lots of bread products which people can buy on the hoof and things like vetkoek that don’t require a lot of cooking time. Many people have a long commute home,” she said.
Although the city council included food allotments as part of its policy, fewer than 5 percent of households in the study area grew food.
“The city definitely needs to think more about this. The policy facilitates access to land and seed and so on, but not about connecting people to markets. The city tried to set up trade locations, but the policy was to put them on roadways, rather than where people walk.”
Battersby-Lennard said food insecurity among urban poor was not limited to Cape Town. Surveys had been conducted in Joburg and Pietermaritzburg and had come up with similar findings, while a regional survey of 11 cities in nine southern African countries had found that 77 percent of households were insecure. Brazil, like South Africa, included in its constitution the right to sufficient food, yet both countries had similar levels of insecurity.
“But Brazil is more pro-active with market interventions and connecting programmes. For example, their school feeding programme is linked to their small-holder initiatives.
“They are good at connecting all the players.”
Locally the city needed to pay attention to how food was sold in the city, to recognise the importance of informal food traders and to improve mechanisms to improve this sector, to set up trader locations which fitted in with where people buy, and to examine the urban agriculture policy, particularly linking growers to markets.