Food insecurity is one of the gravest manifestations of poverty and child poverty in particular in South Africa and most African countries as well as other countries in the underdeveloped world.
A report released by Statistics SA has claimed that approximately a third of children in Gauteng and Free State are stunted as a result of chronic malnutrition.
The report stated that South Africa had one of the highest low birth-weight rates with a 13.3 percent occurrence of live births of babies under 2.5kg nationally. It also said the country had a high underweight for-age incidence with 21.3 percent occurrences nationally in 2016.
As the world marks World Hunger Day and attention turns to food security, local authorities should be concerned about data indicating that a general reduction in poverty between 2006 and 2011 was followed by a marked increase in poverty levels in 2015.
Between 13 and 14 million people are estimated to be hungry in South Africa with experts contending that getting a reliable estimate is no easy task as the number is constantly shifting. This is due to the dynamic and complex phenomenon that is food insecurity, according to Africa Check.
The World Food Programme defines food insecurity as the lack of secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and
development and an active and healthy life. It says for people to be food secure, food must be available in sufficient quantities – either homegrown, locally grown or imported from elsewhere.
It adds three important determinants of food security.
The first is that food must be accessible – in other words, people must be able to acquire it regularly in adequate quantities and diversity whether through purchase, home production, barter, gifts, borrowing or food aid.
Also, the food that is available and accessible needs to have a positive nutritional impact on people. This refers to the way it is utilised by households, for instance, household storage, cooking, hygiene and sharing practices.
Availability, access and utilisation are known as the three pillars of food security.
A fourth pillar – stability – refers to the fact that all three must be maintained on a consistent basis, says WFP.
Acute food insecurity and malnutrition are any manifestation of food insecurity found in a specified area at a specific point in time of a severity that threatens lives or livelihoods, or both, regardless of the causes, context or duration, WFP says.
It says there are highly susceptible to change and can occur and manifest in a population within a short amount of time, as a result of sudden changes or shocks that negatively impact on the determinants of food insecurity and malnutrition.
WFP refers to malnutrition as the abnormal physiological condition caused by deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in energy and/or nutrients necessary for an active, healthy life. It defines malnutrition as including undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, being overweight and obesity.
These conditions can arise separately or coexist, says the WFP.
Undernutrition refers to the outcome of insufficient intake, and/or poor absorption and/or poor biological use of nutrients consumed It includes being underweight for one’s age, too short for one’s age (stunted), dangerously thin for one’s height (wasted) and deficient in vitamins and minerals (micronutrient deficiencies).
All forms of malnutrition result from inadequate nutrient intake, repeated infectious disease, and/or poor care and feeding practices. In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa said we need to educate the children of the poor in order to break the cycle of poverty.
The Stats SA report claimed that the first 1 000 days in a child’s life could hold the key to unlocking his/her life-long potential. “By the age of five, almost 90 percent of a child’s brain will be developed. These are the formative years where factors such as adequate healthcare, good nutrition, good quality childcare and nurturing, a clean and safe environment, early learning and stimulation will, to a large extent, influence his/ her future as an adult,” the report said.
It also states that the development of a child begins as early as the start of a woman’s pregnancy with good nutrition and medical care for the mother being essential in order for her to deliver a healthy child. Other cited useful interventions included encouraging mothers to breastfeed.
“Children in poor households may thus start life at a disadvantage and can fall further behind their more advantaged peers throughout their life cycle,” the report states.
While the government and non-governmental organisations have tried to ameliorate the problem of hunger and malnutrition through child feeding schemes and nutrition programmes, high poverty levels remain a threat to food security. Some experts now argue for sustainable models centred on community food projects rather than handouts as a more effective way of tackling child poverty and child hunger.
This is more so as WFP reports that around R40 billion is needed per year to reach the world’s 66-million hungry school-age children.