While South Africa is food secure at national level, millions of households are food insecure, writes Chantell Witten. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)
While South Africa is food secure at national level, millions of households are food insecure, writes Chantell Witten. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Fallout from pandemic will hit food insecurity

By Chantell Witten Time of article published Jun 30, 2020

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On March 26, the president declared a national lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic as it started to emerge in South Africa.

Since then and several weeks into the lockdown, Statistics SA has provided evidence which many intuitively knew would be more devastating to households than the coronavirus itself - loss of income and the negative effects that follow hunger. Stats SA reported that the percentage of respondents receiving no income increased from 5.2% before the lockdown to 15.4% by the sixth week of the national lockdown.

Given that the majority of South Africans depend on the informal labour market, such as informal traders and casual workers, this lack of income would hit millions of households. Furthermore, Stats SA also reported a decrease in formal wage/salary earners for the same period, from 76.6% before the national lockdown to 66.7% by the sixth week of the lockdown.

While South Africa is food secure at national level, millions of households are food insecure. In July last year, the measurement of extreme poverty - the food poverty line (FPL) - was raised to R561 (using April 2019 prices) per person per month, which was up from R547 last year. This is the amount of money that Stats SA calculates an individual requires “to afford the minimum required daily energy intake” of 2 100 calories per day. Before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, South Africa already had a precarious food and nutrition situation, especially for young children.

South Africa’s child-stunting levels - an indication of chronic and long-term food insecurity - increased from 21% in 2008 to 27% in 2016. With Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown, child malnutrition rates are expected to increase.

Stunting not only affects a child’s health, making them more susceptible to disease and infection, but also impairs their mental and physical development - meaning that children who suffer from stunting are less likely to achieve their full height and cognitive potentials as adults.

The 2020 Global Nutrition Report recognises and asserts that inequality and globalisation are major drivers of food insecurity. As individuals and as collectives, we need to continue to advocate for and support calls to continue raising the child support grant to help households stay above the poverty line.

Millions of households in South Africa are supported by social grants; in solidarity, we need to appreciate the safety net that these social grants provide to vulnerable households. Advocate for and support initiatives to safeguard child health and nutrition, including efforts to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding in neonatal care, postnatal care, and ongoing support to breastfeeding mothers.

In an effort to eat more fresh vegetables and fruit, starting a home garden is a great family challenge and a definite way of keeping food costs low. And as we navigate the new normal post-Covid-19 times ahead, let us keep mealtimes and meal preparation a fun, family activity. Discovering new foods and new tastes can be as exciting as travelling to a new place.

Stay safe, stay healthy!

* Chantell Witten is with the division of health professions education at the University of the Free State.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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