The danger of food insecurity and its far-reaching impacts on society

Food is a basic human right but a challenge for many vulnerable people around the world. Picture: Syd Wachs from Pexels

Food is a basic human right but a challenge for many vulnerable people around the world. Picture: Syd Wachs from Pexels

Published Jun 12, 2023


South Africa’s food insecurity crisis demands immediate attention and a multi-pronged approach, according to Warren Farrer, executive director of the Do More Foundation.

Farrer says there is an urgent need for a comprehensive strategy that involves various stakeholders. Young children are the most vulnerable group affected by food insecurity, with child malnutrition often being a forgotten consequence of inaction.

The “Measuring Food Security in South Africa” report, which applied the Food Insecurity Experience Scale in 2019, revealed that even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March of the same year, 17.3% of South Africans were affected by moderate to severe food insecurity, while 7% experienced severe food insecurity.

These numbers have increased during 2020, reaching 23.6% for moderate to severe food insecurity and 14.9% for severe food insecurity. Farrer warns that ignoring these reports could have long-lasting consequences.

The potential dangers of food insecurity are significant, with malnourishment and hunger leading to long-term health and developmental consequences in children.

The situation demands immediate action from all stakeholders, including government, NGOs, and the private sector. It is crucial to address the root causes of food insecurity, such as poverty, inequality, and unemployment, while also providing short-term relief to those in need.

With children bearing the brunt of this issue, it is imperative to prioritise their needs and ensure that they have access to nutritious food. Failure to act now could have devastating consequences for the future of South Africa.

Many families still live in dire poverty and low-resourced communities with limited access to sufficient nutritious food.

Countrywide unemployment and continued job losses post-2020 have meant that the public’s pockets have been tightened to such an extent that even the most basic of needs is a budget stretch, causing families to seek food that costs less, regardless of the nutritional value.

Farrer says last year, the Household Affordability Index, compiled by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, found that the child support grant of R480 was 28% below the food poverty line of R663 and 43% below the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet.

“Adding to the financial burden, load-shedding and climbing interest rates contribute to sky-rocketing food prices,” Farrer says.

The government has made various attempts to tackle the hunger crisis. Response to food insecurity should include scaling policies and national nutrition programmes to cater to the right of all citizens to sufficient nutritious food and clean water, as enshrined in the South African Bill of Rights.

Failing to prioritise children in these programmes has had far-reaching consequences, impacting their lives indefinitely.

Farrer says: “Targeted nutrition education to promote child health and dietary diversity is crucial for optimal brain development and to reduce the risk of stunting from the age of 6 months. However, a recent survey on stunting by Grow Great in Mpumalanga’s Ehlanzeni community showed that only seven out of 100 children aged 6 – 23 months consumed more than five food groups in 24 hours.”

On average, children in Ehlanzeni eat from just three different food groups a day, contradicting the Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs) for South Africa, which advises a variety of foods.

“The urgent need for mutual co-operation to implement policies and programmes that address the underlying causes of food insecurity is undeniable. We have to act now to promote sustainable agriculture, improve livelihoods, and provide social support for the most vulnerable in our society, our children.”

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