In simple terms, food security means that every citizen should have enough food to live an active and healthy life. Seems obvious, right? The tragedy is that for far too many South Africans this is not the case. The second problem is that for those of us that do have food security, it is not guaranteed. This two-fold issue is why we all need to be concerned…
What is “Food Security”?
In 1996 the World Food Summit agreed that food security “exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” In other words, enough food to be able to get out of bed in the morning and have enough energy to be able to function.
Food insecurity is a situation of “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways”, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). This means that the problem is two-fold. Firstly there are far too many of our people living without acceptable means of nutrition. Secondly, there is the issue of “nutritionally adequate and safe foods”. Let’s examine both…
Problem 1 – Hunger and Poverty
Sadly, poverty and hunger rates in South Africa are still extremely high, making food security more of a luxury than a necessity for many. By the end of 2015, more than 55% and over 33 million South Africans were living in poverty with little access to sufficient food supplies. And those most affected? Children between the ages of 0 to 17, who often fall even further beyond the poverty line. This translates to some dire child mortality statistics, one of which is “31% of children who died in hospital between 2012 and 2013 were severely malnourished and a further 30% were underweight for their age.” (Mail & Guardian)
In the 21st Century of exceptional advances in technology, it is hard to believe that basic hunger is still a massive issue across the world. In South Africa the reasons for this are numerous and many are historical. Post-colonialism turned into apartheid, and the majority of South Africans were forced into a system that essentially enforced poverty. There was no land to grow food. There were no economic opportunities to escape poverty. There were no adequate social services. Post-1994 contributing issues have included high unemployment levels, health crises including HIV, and high food and fuel prices.
Problem 2 – Our Food is Not Safe
When we talk about “safe” we mean various things. Firstly, our supply of food is not guaranteed, and we should never take it for granted. One of the biggest stresses on our food supply is overpopulation, which means more food and land needed for people, and less space for growing crops.
Then there is the overwhelming impact of climate change, which has already affected many farmers in SA. Things like drought, flooding or abnormal rain patterns have meant that the crops we used to expect yearly are no longer guaranteed. When this happens, we might turn to imports, which cost more and, with rising fuel prices, become unattainable for many citizens.
Water scarcity, food wastage and the declining diversity of crops grown are also contributing factors. In short, we are demanding and taking too much from our planet, and it simply is struggling to cope.
The second “safety” issue refers to access to food that is free of harmful substances, like antibiotics, pesticides, colorants and other pathogens that cause disease, or genetically modified (GMO) crops that have been created by science, not nature. For the average person buying mass-produced crops, this is hard to avoid, and important to remember when considering the impact these micro-organisms have had on the rise in diseases like cancer. Hence the call to buy organic foods and know where your food is coming from, but this is far easier said than done.
For us – people who believe that food is the most powerful medicine – this threat to our food is severely worrying as it means people cannot access the natural healing properties of food because it is no longer in its natural state.
What can we do?
The problems are numerous and seem overwhelming, but we can all make seemingly small changes and hopefully influence others to do the same. Here’s some ideas:
- Don’t buy more than you need and waste food. If you’re not going to eat it, give it to someone who needs it.
- Know what the government is doing about food safety and make noise about it. Ignorance is not bliss – in this case it’s possibly killing us.
- Try grow your own food and buy organic whenever you can. This is the only way to know that your food is not riddled with pathogens.
- Save water and be water wise – it is by far our most precious resource.
- Recycle, compost your waste, reduce your carbon footprint.
- Find out how you can contribute to feeding schemes across the country. The smallest donation of money or food could mean the difference between malnutrition and health for a child.
- Stay informed!