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    Addressing household food insecurity: Forming the Food Security Council now

    Escalating household food insecurity experienced by an estimated 30 million people should be treated as a national crisis, requiring urgent action from government.
    Addressing household food insecurity: Forming the Food Security Council now

    More than 28 million people in South Africa receive a social grant, which, on the one hand provides an essential lifeline for those who have no other source of income to rely on, but on the other hand is grossly insufficient to meet their basic needs.

    Equally concerning, more than 55% of our population live below the Upper Bound Poverty Line (UBPL) of R1,555, while the cost of a monthly basket of basic foods (excluding other living expenses like electricity, transport etc.) costs R5,336, resulting in a massive shortfall in household income, leading to extreme levels of food poverty, starvation, and malnutrition.

    Consequently, 27% of our children under 5 years of age are stunted - not getting the proper nutrition they need to grow and develop, and millions of school children are going to bed hungry.

    The general cost of living, and food prices in particular, will remain high for the foreseeable future, despite food inflation moderating marginally, forcing cash-strapped consumers to cope by buying cheaper, less nutritious foods, eating smaller portions, skipping meals, and forced into exploitative arrangements to survive.

    While the causes of poverty, inequality, and unemployment are multi-dimensional and complex to address, during protracted periods of low economic growth and high cost of living as is the case in South Africa, social intervention programmes relating food and nutrition security are crucial, which was envisioned way back in 2013, when Cabinet approved the Draft Policy on Food and Nutrition Security, the Household Food and Nutrition Security Strategy and the Fetsa Tlala Integrated Food Production Initiative.

    This plan was expected to provide synergy for implementation of food and nutrition programs aimed at reducing poverty and addressing the causal factors for the current food and nutrition situation while the policy frameworks were intended to streamline, harmonise, and integrate our more than 60 policies, plans, strategies, and programmes related to food and nutrition security. It was lauded by President Ramaphosa as a “game-changer” that imagined “ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030.”

    Despite escalating poverty and inequality, the final National Policy on Food and Nutrition Security Plan was only approved in November 2017, which outlined specific key objectives for implementation from February 2018 to March 2023.

    The plan, while well intentioned, failed to fulfil its mandate on a grand scale. In October 2023, the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation released a scathing evaluation report on the plan and found, among others, that:

    1. Of the 17 impact level indicators, only 5 could be tracked to report progress
    2. There was no labour, civil society, and government engagement for inclusion
    3. There was slow progress on interventions, lack of budget allocation, and poor leadership
    4. The National Council on Food and Nutrition Security had still not been formed
    5. There was poor institutional collaboration
    6. There was no monitoring and evaluation system, and no data collection and sharing between government departments
    7. Funding must be prioritised and devolved to NPOs / not government departments

    Household food insecurity and malnutrition amongst children under 5 has since escalated to crisis levels, as millions of households battle to make ends meet, which significantly increases the risk of social unrest and crime.

    The task of developing the new Food and Nutrition Security Plan for 2023 – 2029 is still underway, and has been devolved to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD). They have formed a Technical Working Committee, on which FoodForward SA is represented.

    While this committee is keenly aware of the current social challenges, they must heed the recommendations of the evaluation report of the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, speedily see to the formation of the Food and Nutrition Security Council, and constitute an inclusive working committee that can come up with a plan that is coherent, integrated, addresses all areas of vulnerability, and is responsive to the needs, realities, conditions and livelihoods of those who are most at risk.

    About Andy du Plessis

    Andy du Plessis is a food justice activist and has been involved in the development sector for nearly 30 years. He is currently the managing director of FoodForward SA, which he joined in 2013.
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