SA is in a poor nutrition and hunger crisis as the cost of living shoots through the roof

South Africa - Buying food for South African families was getting more expensive each month, and this is backed by data. Photographer: Armand Hough: Independent Media

South Africa - Buying food for South African families was getting more expensive each month, and this is backed by data. Photographer: Armand Hough: Independent Media

Published May 5, 2024


WHEN, in 2021, about 2.1 million - or 11.6% of South African households reported experiencing hunger, it appeared as though it could get no worse, but in the first half of this year and as the annual consumer inflation rose, so did the price of, among others costs, food.

According to Statistics SA, the main reasons for hunger included high unemployment and poverty, and the rising costs of living, all which impacted negatively on South Africa’s state of food security.

Food has become expensive and inaccessible, and this, statistics showed, led to high numbers of people and households experiencing food inadequacy and hunger.

“The country has slid further into a dark state of food insecurity, and it not only got worse among those who were previously afflicted, it encroached into households known to manage to nutritiously fill their baskets with ease,” economist Elizabeth Baker said.

Said the World Food Programme (WFP) in defining food security: “Being food secure is when people have available and adequate access at all times to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.”

During the late 1990s, the country was deemed on international levels as food secure, capable of producing enough staple foods, and having the capacity to import food needed to meet the basic nutritional requirements of the population.

“Where then did it all go wrong, is the question we should be asking ourselves, in order to fix it,” said Baker. The country has enough land, resources, the ability, and the need, to feed everyone, and nutritiously too, she added.

And while generally, the direct causes of inadequate food access are poverty, environmental stressors and conflict, AgriSA last year put it down, largely, to load shedding and the billions of rands in losses for the agriculture sector.

“Food security hangs in the balance without immediate action on Eskom,” chief executive Christo van der Rheede said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, when he presented his State of the Nation Address, committed the government to plans of having “invested significantly in a social wage package to reduce inequality and address the worst effects of poverty”. Fighting hunger and poverty, he said, was the reason the government had programmes to provide free basic services, education, and social housing for the poor, as well as an extensive social security grants system.

“The government is working to ensure that existing social grants are increased to cushion the poor against rising inflation,” he said, adding that the extension of the Social Relief of Distress Grant was among these, and they would also develop a longer-term alternative for targeted basic income support to replace the SRD Grant.

Barker said: “Social grants, in the bigger scheme of things, do not address hunger and nutrition, but only serve to make sure the poorest of the poor always have something - anything, to eat.”

That they ate nutritious food, prepared meals that nourished the body, mind and soul, or even kept people satisfied for long, was not on that agenda. “If one takes a look at the grocery food basket of a person living in poverty they are unlikely to find it packed according to proper dietary requirements, but more according to what they can buy.

“Remember, people do not only need to eat but they must be dressed - warmly in the cold and cool in the heat; they must have other basic creature comforts like pots and pans, utensils to cook with and gas and electricity.

“Children must get to school, and more often than not there are costs attached to that, and even if they do not pay school fees they will need to have pens and pencils, books and bags. The social grants are therefore stretched beyond that, and what suffers the most, is food.”

Social economist Seth Mashudu said many households went without proper basic nutrition for most of the month, and a quick look at what flew off the shelves in grocery stores was evidence. “Bread, milk, cooking oil, rice, and maize meal…without fruits and vegetables to balance it off, is what they will go for. This ensures that they do eat, but not that they eat nutritiously.”

A survey in February, Mashudu said, indicated that even the so-called affluent homes no longer cared much for nutrition. “If they have the basics then they are good to go, as they must pay for their cars - necessary to move from home to school and work, they must pay for their rent and bonds, and, they must be dressed appropriately.”

Mashudu said the so-called seven colour meals were preserved for the higher echelon, and behind many high walls, only on certain days. What he decried was the lack of education, awareness, and skills sharing on the use of available land and resource.

“If people were taught and encouraged to plant their food, no matter where they are, fresh vegetables, which are much more nutritious than meat stored and cured, would ensure longevity and health,” he said.

It would, also, greatly improve the failing health of the nation, the dropped educational standards, and ensure South Africa rose to become the country it was meant to be.