Food insecurity has long been an issue in South Africa, with 11% of the population (6.5 million people) suffering from hunger in 2019, according to Statistics South Africa.
As of late, it has become a considerably topical issue, with President Cyril Ramaphosa having referred to food insecurity in parliament proceedings as well as his weekly newsletters at least twice in the last month.
It’s not hard to see why it has increasingly become a topic of discussion in the country. This year has seen the rate of hunger in South Africa increase significantly due to a number of factors, resulting in an economic decline and many citizens going to bed hungry.
In his recently presented economic recovery plan, the president announced a number of ways to rebuild the economy and slowly eradicate food insecurity in the country over the next five years. However 61% of South Africans interviewed by Ask Afrika have little confidence in the president’s plan.
Access to sufficient food is also crucial for pregnant women and growing children. An estimated 27% of children under the age of 5 in South Africa are stunted. This means that they experienced a lack of nutrients in the womb that can result in lifelong challenges.
Children who are stunted are more likely to face learning difficulties and grow to be a lot shorter than children who are not stunted. They’re also highly likely to experience health issues in their adulthood, including diabetes and obesity.
A lot of work needs to be done in order to decrease the rate of hunger in the country and overcome the lack of food for its citizens.
But in order to tackle the issue, it is important to note what has caused an incline in food insecurity this year in the first place.
1. The COVID-19 pandemic
The pandemic itself is not the cause of the state of food insecurity in South Africa, but rather the measures put in place by the government to manage the spread of the virus.
South Africa experienced one of the strictest lockdowns in the world between March and July this year. Most of the economy was forced to shut down as non-essential services were told to close during the period.
While important to control the spread of the pandemic, this resulted in one of the biggest economic declines South Africa has seen in nearly a century, and saw 2.2 million people lose their jobs. This loss of income has seriously impacted the rate of household food security across the country.
The Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey published in July this year, showed that 47% of the adults surveyed ran out of money to buy food for their household in April. In the previous seven days before being surveyed, 21% of adults said that at least one person in their household went hungry, and 15% said that a child had gone hungry in the same period.
With the United Nations predicting that that the number of households living below the poverty line in South Africa will increase due to the pandemic, the lack of income to secure food in a growing number of households is a rising issue of concern.
2. Environmental factors
Droughts have long been a threat to South Africa’s agriculture and food production.
Last year’s droughts were the cause of decreased grain, wheat, and fruit production in several parts of the country and the prolonged dry seasons caused farmers to wait longer to plant their crops, or miss the planting season entirely.
This month Independent Online South Africa reported that droughts in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) could result in a serious food security crisis, especially since the province is the main provider of South Africa’s agricultural produce.
KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala warned of the crisis while speaking at the launch of the Provincial Multi-Planting Season last Friday.
“Unless immediate action is taken, it is increasingly clear that the impending worst food emergency could have a long-term severe impact on thousands of children and adults already impoverished in KwaZulu-Natal,” he said.
Another huge environmental issue are dust clouds that have been plaguing the Free State province, where most of the country’s maize is grown. A report in The Conversation has revealed that these dust clouds continue to affect the growth of crops and could eventually result in a food crisis if not handled well.
3. Farm attacks
In recent months, there has been an increase in fear and outrage among farmers over invasions and attacks occurring on their land.
The president has condemned these violent crimes and has called it a threat to food security in the country.
Last week at a press conference, Minister of the Presidency, Jackson Mthembu reiterated the president’s sentiments and declared that the government as a whole recognises the issue as a threat to national food security.
“The farming community is an integral part of our economy, and crime on farms poses a threat not only to the personal safety of farmers and farmworkers but also to the country’s food security,” he said.
The government is in talks of what measures to take to protect farmers in the country.
Although South Africa is experiencing an increase in hunger, it is still one of Africa’s most food secure countries. Millions of people on the continent struggle with access to food as a result of poverty and other factors. To help make sure that the continent sees an end to food insecurity, take action here.