The first fact I would like to highlight is that it may be uncomfortable, but we need to face the realization that we have a severe food security problem in South Africa. This does not mean that we have a crisis in food production, not yet anyway! Statistics South Africa reported in their General Household Survey (GHS) of 2009 that at least 20% of South Africans do not have adequate access to food. Added to this, the NFCS or the National Food Consumption Survey found that 18% of SA children between the ages of 1 and 9 are undersized, showing stunted growth due to insufficient nutrition. More findings from a survey called the Urban Food Security Baseline Survey carried out by the African Food Security Urban Network (AFSUN), reported severe food insecurity in 70% of poor households within urban areas. The results of these types of surveys, looking past research errors or possible inaccuracies, are startling. What we need to face in this country is that we have very many hungry people.
This problem is made worse when the facts are not revealed correctly and even misinterpreted. Political gain and furthering political agendas might be felt a viable reason for doing this. Only in 2007 were the words ‘food security’ brought to the attention of the unions and the government for the first time. This followed a concern about the affordability of food during the extreme price increases of food and commodities. SA agriculture then came into the spotlight when the total agricultural trade balance fell into the red, and according to their interpretation, South Africa had become a net food importer. This could never really have been the situation as you look at the type of products on import. Whiskey was included in this list and that has nothing to do with food security.
In 2009/2010, we had to do some rethinking when there were sustained high levels of food insecurity even though we reported surplus production of maize, which is our staple food product. Food inflation was also well below overall inflation, which would suggest that food had actually become more affordable. Public announcements suggesting that we should produce food on every square meter in the country were completely inappropriate. Food security is not only about having enough food available locally, it is also about employing and supporting people to enable them to afford and access food. Therefore, we need to identify what should be addressed when considering food security.
An assertion by Miriam Altman is correct when she says that food security is not an isolated developmental issue. It should be understood in conjunction with other questions of social development and protection, such as sources of income, urban and rural development, health, changes in household structures, people’s access to land, water and inputs as well as retail markets, education and nutritional knowledge. Allow me to append a few agricultural competitiveness topics, such as agricultural research and development, functional food value chains, and agricultural and national infrastructure. As we consider these things there are more questions such as the enabling policy environment along with the effectiveness of the coordination and distribution channels of food.
Unemployed, poor and hungry people are this country’s biggest challenge. This not only refers to the underdeveloped, malnourished children and the very sad picture of hungry and under-fed people, but also the social and welfare burden we don’t have the means to carry. The country needs to realise that we need economic growth, competitiveness and sustainable job creation to address this problem. A well-fed person has many problems, a hungry person has one!