IN THE run-up to next year's general elections, politicians and businesses should make child hunger and malnutrition the number one issue. One in 5 South African households don’t have enough food on the table, and times are getting harder as food prices escalate.
The DG Murray Trust (DGMT) and Grow Great, a national zero-stunting organisation, has launched a national advocacy campaign, involving over 300 billboards, to call for immediate action to reduce the cost of basic nutritious food.
An image of a child voting with the words “I vote for food” is displayed on the first pair of billboards. It is a challenge to ensure that all political parties have household food security as a central objective in their election manifestos in the face of the growing food crisis.
David Harrison, DGMT’s chief executive officer, explained that the campaign features a series of incisive messages that present child nutrition as a national priority for public health, education and economic growth.
“South Africa has the worst record of household food insecurity compared to middle-income countries of similar per capita GDP. The last national survey, done in 2016, found that 27% of children under the age of five had stunted growth – a proxy for impaired brain development,” Harrison explained.
The second set of billboards shows a uniformed schoolboy giving a lesson to a group of adults with the words "if I grow well, I learn well" written on a chalkboard. This demonstrates the connection between malnutrition and low educational outcomes. This message conveys the point that children's bodies and minds lack the fuel they need to grow and develop without good nutrition.
Children who are stunted are more likely to fail their education, struggle to find work, and live in poverty as adults. As a result, subsequent generations of children are unable to achieve their full potential.
The third set of billboards show a girl seated on an office desk overlooking a cityscape with the message “good nutrition today is good for business tomorrow”.
Harrison explained that according to the World Bank, high stunting rates are one of the main reasons for South Africa’s dismal economic growth because the county does not have a sufficient human capital pipeline to drive productivity.
“But if we ensured that all children had enough food, our long-term economic prospects would be radically different,” said Harrison.
The goal of the billboards is to get people to support a bold new idea that DGMT and Grow Great championed earlier this year. The idea calls for food producers, retailers, and the government to work together to cut the price of 10 healthy foods by at least 30%.
These items include eggs, dried beans and lentils, tinned fish, fortified maize meal, peanut butter, rice, amasi, soya mince, 4-in-1 soup mix, and powdered full cream milk, which are staple foods in most households.
The proposal involves retailers and food manufacturers agreeing to relinquish the mark-ups of at least one product label of each of the “10 best buys”. Government would then show its support by agreeing to provide a rebate to retailers and manufacturers.
Parents and caregivers are encouraged to get in touch with Grow Great to learn more about the ten best buys on a fourth set of billboards, which acknowledges the difficult times.
Dr Edzani Mphaphuli, Grow Great executive director stated that civil society organisations can do their part by raising awareness about the 10 best buys and sharing the resources and information that has been made available on their platforms.
“Good nutrition cannot only be the responsibility of the Department of Health,” Mphaphuli explained.
“Given what we know about the consequences of child malnutrition on households and the economy, we need the whole of society to mobilise to turn things around,” Mphaphuli added.
Mphaphuli said they call on the government, food producers, wholesalers and retailers to stand in solidarity with South African families to close the food gap.