The number of people going hungry everyday has been increasing in the world in the past 3 years. More than 820 million people are going hungry everyday around the world (FAO, 2019). According to Chakona and Shackleton (2017), Drimie & Mclachlan (2013) and Pereira, Cuneo & Twine (2014), South Africa is declared food secure at national level. However, it can be argued that this is not a true reflection because a lot of households are still living below the food poverty line, with 6,8 million people experiencing hunger and 10,4 million people with inadequate access to food in 2017 (Statistics South Africa, 2017). Likewise, the country is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of 36 countries with the highest burden of undernutrition. It is noted, however, that South Africa faces lack of sufficient data to indicate the impact of hunger at provincial level, by sex or age partly due to lack of finance for data collection and resources to collate it. Considering this argument this report explores the challenge of ‘Hunger Must Go by 2030 for South Africans’. It is about whether South Africa can overcome hunger by 2030, given that it is affected by several other factors, such as lack of access to food and nutrition (quantity and diet), prevalence of poverty (affordability, social values and inequality) and biodiversity loss (agriculture/production and distribution). The objective was to review the impact of the parameters in question, review the need for multi-level policies that cover different sectors and finally narrow down key areas and partnerships necessary to implement change now rather than later to meet the goal. The search of literature was undertaken using the Manchester Metropolitan University Library, Google and Science Direct. In the discussion recommendations are made to address poverty and hunger not only from what is lacking but also from effective utilization of existing systems and increase of protectionist policies for producers and the population at large.
Hunger and Lack of Access to Food
Key to reducing hunger and improved nutrition is the ability of people to afford and access food. Studies show that considering national production and imports of food Africa in general, South Africa (SA) included, has enough food to support her population such that hunger should not be an issue. This is supported by statistics in SA which acknowledge that household access to food has improved since 2002 but has not significantly changed since 2011. Around 26% of South African households or 13–15 million people have either inadequate or severely inadequate access to food (Misselhorn and Hendricks, 2017). The problem of hunger in SA does not squarely lie in the amount of food but also in access to the food. However, even when people eventually have access, they do not have enough income to buy due to poverty, huge income gaps and unemployment which in 2017 was standing at 27,5% (Statistics South Africa, 2017; Villasante et al., 2015; Chakona & Shackleton, 2017). Furthermore, when people manage to produce their own food through subsistence farming, they have no access to the markets due to lack of infrastructure or high transport costs. Lack of access to food and hunger is not equally experienced throughout the population; it is highest among black people and those less educated, female headed households and those with large families (The World Bank, 2018). These social disparities further increase the constraints of Hunger Must Go by 2030.
Hunger and Nutrition, Under-/Malnourishment
People who have insufficient food may not necessarily suffer from hunger but lack of enough food and insufficient nutrients results in them being under nourished or malnourished with potential adverse health effects. Besides the challenge of undernutrition, a growing challenge of malnutrition (hidden hunger) manifests in the form of overweight and obesity. Diets in South Africa are highly dependent on cereals, starchy staple food and frequently lack dietary variety. The transition to this diet is mainly because people have moved from food production to food purchasing and thus prefer, or are forced, to rely on the cheaper food which is highly meat-based, with more energy in the form of saturated fats and refined sugars but poor in nutritional value. The implication of this is hidden hunger and a shift in epidemiology from infectious to non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The government implemented the Household Food and Nutrition Strategy which is meant to enhance food utilization by looking at the following: governing food prices, providing assistance to farmers, implementation of feeding programs in schools and fortification of staple foods for healthy lifestyle. Research has indicated that these policies are, however, not well implemented; for example, nutritional supplementation programs to provide a nutritious meal to all learners in poorer primary and secondary schools did not meet the nutrient standards for carbohydrate and energy contents. It is also argued that fortification of staple foods to meet nutritional requirements must be reviewed as daily consumption of food among the most vulnerable has significantly reduced and thus consumption is not meeting the RDA of those nutrients.
Poverty and Food Price Volatility
Key to reducing hunger and improving nutrition is the ability of people to afford and access food. Affordability is governed by both food prices and purchasing power. South Africa has made progress in reducing poverty since 1994 (The World Bank, 2018). Despite these noted improvements poverty is still one of the main causes of South Africa’s hunger and food insecurity. According to Statistics South Africa (2017), nearly 13.8 million people are extremely poor and 25.2% of the population lives in extreme poverty. Malnutrition and hunger are high among the poor who lack safety nets to absorb income or price shocks and high change environments from retailers (FAO, 2019). They therefore continue to rely on the most filling, affordable but unhealthy staple starch diets with little fruits and vegetable. The impact of food price changes has the potential of increasing hunger and reducing dietary quality. Social protection remains important in reducing extreme poverty, but the budgetary room for further expansion is not there and so is low growth expectations in the coming years which suggest poor prospects of eliminating poverty and hunger by 2030 (The World Bank, 2018). Poverty in South Africa was to some extent shaped by pre-1994 patterns of spatial development and standard of education to which South Africa adopted several policies to address this among which are the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE), employment tax incentives and minimum wage laws. Research indicates that the policies have not been well implemented evenly throughout the country with the resultant status of hunger which is highly uneven among its population and creating a huge gap between the rich and the poor hence the need to review and relook at the policies. Currently South Africa has established policies to improve access to food through social protection and development schemes as highlighted in the National Food and Security Policy. According to Misselhorn and Hendricks (2017), the significance of the role of social grant cannot be denied as it is playing a pivotal role in providing social protection and some measure of poverty relief at household level in South Africa. High unemployment rate, inadequate social welfare systems, unstable household food production has resulted in households which are highly reliant on social grants. Pereira, Cuneo & Twine (2014) and Nhlapo et al. (2015) argue that a sustainable food system cannot be built upon reliance on external social assistance, and that although it is true that there is need for safety nets to protect against changing prices, losses of employment, and poverty, social grants alone do not constitute a sustainable intervention.
Hunger and Loss of Biodiversity (Agriculture Production and Distribution)
According to Misselhorn and Hendricks (2017), the people in South Africa have transitioned to an increased dependence on purchasing food from large retailers as there has been a decrease in own production. Misselhorn and Hendricks argue that as much as 49.6% of total expenditure can go to purchasing food increasing hunger among the poor people. Even rural South Africans have migrated to relying on purchased food. Only 15,6% of South African households are still involved in agricultural production. This set back is leading to deagrarianization as urbanization is becoming more rapid, poor affordability of inputs against high production costs, poor access to farms and climatic conditions, drought and lack of suitable land to produce. The policies implemented by government, for example, the structural adjustment programmes, have not been effective. They brought changes which included removal of subsidies for agricultural inputs, negatively pricing them out of range of small farmers and made the market uncertain due to lack of set prices or marketing boards. This is quite significant as it has resulted in more migration away from agriculture, lack of income diversity and productivity and thus more hunger particularly for the rural population. Traders have also not come on board to assist as they are hesitant to travel long distances to the farms with no proper transport infrastructure in place and the farmers also are not willing or are unable to meet the high transportation to agents against uncertain prices. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) drafted the National Food and Security Policy which serves as a guide to national, provincial and local government in pursuit of food and nutrition security at every level. Department of Social Development implemented the National Development Plan which addresses food security, but goes beyond an agricultural focus by making recommendations for expanding the community works program for rural infrastructure development, ensuring all eligible households have access to social grants and implementing measures to ensure that vulnerable groups have access to nutrition.
Evidence from the foregoing reviews above shows that although declared food secure at National level, South African food policies have not been well implemented throughout the country to achieve the Hunger Must Go by 2030 target. The status of hunger and food security is highly uneven among South Africa’s population creating a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Prevalence of poverty, and inaccessibility of food amid projected low growth economic perspectives in the coming years suggest poor chances of hunger going or meeting goals of Sustainable Development Goal 2 if South Africa continues with business as usual. The majority of South Africans are now dependent on buying food instead of own production and affordability of this food is fundamental to curb hunger. Not many people are immune to the effects of increasing food prices especially considering high unemployment rate and low incomes in South Africa. There is high dependency on government food grants among the poor which is preventing engagement into sustainable initiatives such as food gardens. The poor majority are living with barely enough money to afford a balanced meal daily and thus rely mostly on consuming staple food starches, very little fruits and most affordable vegetables, which are often low in nutrients and lack variety. As affordability reduces due to inflation and increased prices of production and final products, households with low incomes will eat less and less such that even the efforts by government to fortify food will not assist in reducing malnutrition. Without intervention, South Africa will not be able to say Hunger Must Go by 2030.
- If hunger has to go by 2030 food has to be made affordable and accessible to the greater population more sustainably through capacity building and employment creation. Individuals should look at investing in nutritional improvement programs that do not necessarily depend on high income investment. These include alternative food sources to increase diet diversity with foods such as edible wild plants, wild insects, birds, and reptiles, as an important protein and nutrition source for the children particularly in the poor rural and peri urban areas. Sustainability of this food source is debatable since availability is markedly seasonal and could cause land degradation due to unlimited harvesting. However, it is a good nutritional source, cheap and accessible and the authorities can educate the people and put measures to strictly control harvesting in localized areas.
- Studies by Chakona and Shackleton (2017) have shown that community gardening projects by locals can reduce hunger and food insecurity by improving micro-nutrient intake through consumption of fresh vegetables, furthermore contributing to household food security through increasing availability, accessibility, and utilization of food. Municipalities must therefore look at making land available for such projects and consider allocation to women of reproductive age who are most vulnerable.
- The government must address the issues around nutrition transition by promoting the food-based dietary guidelines and supplementary feeding. There are currently two important guidelines aimed at preventing NCD’s on sparingly consuming fats, food, and drinks. It’s noted however their messages may not be reaching the public at large, a situation relevant authorities need to evaluate. Nutrition supplementation through fortification programs also needs to be reviewed as consumption has significantly reduced. Government intervention is also required in lowering the food prices to allow consumption of a variety of foods other than staples. This can be achieved through control of food pricing, food stamps and subsidized balanced food baskets.
- It is not debatable that grants such as the child support grants, and nutritional supplementation programs prevent absolute hunger. Government should consider an increase of social protectionist policies in the context of these social grants with close monitoring against corruption. Surveys should be conducted to assess supplementary programs to ensure participating schools serve meals that include whole grains, meat / other protein alternatives, fruit, and vegetables. Attention should also be paid to daily food consumption rates and the stability of fortification mix to increase the benefits of fortification programs. This will improve macro- and micro-nutrient benefits in school children and women of reproductive age benefitting from these projects.
- There is need to increase support to subsistence/smallholder farmers to reduce dependence on buying instead of growing food through sustainable intensification, well-functioning input and output markets, and reduce transaction costs and risks. To curb the challenges of unavailability of arable land and impacts caused by drought to food production, health authorities should further invest in research and development into drought resistant crops and climate-smart agriculture approaches to maximize on these areas.