South Africa’s empty plates

2014-10-12 06:01

One out of four South Africans goes to bed every night without having eaten a single thing.

The problem isn’t food supply, a new report by international aid agency Oxfam has found – it’s money.

Grocery stores’ shelves are properly stocked in even poor rural and informal urban areas, but people just can’t afford what’s on offer. Food prices are soaring, but so is unemployment.

Another piece of research, by Statistics South Africa, reveals that nearly 23% of households around the country have run out of food money at least once, and 21% have been so cash-strapped they’ve skipped meals or reduced portion sizes.

In nine municipalities in three provinces – the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Limpopo – Oxfam’s researchers heard the same story again and again.

“We have to buy the cheapest of the cheapest. We are rated as the cheapest of the cheapest.

“We know that vegetables, seafood and fruits are the ideals’ of healthy food. But that is not the reality in our community: we don’t consider the nutrients in what we buy, only whether we can afford it or not,” a KwaNobuhle, Eastern Cape resident told Oxfam.

How we feed ourselves

It’s a myth that rural South Africans are more secure than their urban counterparts because of subsistence farming, Oxfam found.

Most rural dwellers buy their food from shops and just 2% grow the majority of their own food.

Unemployment levels were extremely high in the places Oxfam visited, and most households relied solely on social grants to get them through a month.

Child support and old age grants are the most common in these communities – so children and grandparents become the primary breadwinners.

A woman in Polokwane says in the report that her family of seven relied on four child grants to survive.

“This amounts to R1 200, which does not come close to buying basic food for the family,” she said.

Transport is a critical problem and adds to families’ food budgets – residents in Fetakgomo, Limpopo, must travel for an hour to reach the closest market, at the cost of R200 for a return trip.

Ngqushwa in the Eastern Cape, King William’s Town – 58km away – is the closest place with shops.

Some families in Langeberg in the Western Cape said they ate just one proper meal a week, on a Sunday.

Solutions lacking 

In Bloemendal and KwaNobuhle, school feeding schemes ensured that children would eat at least one proper meal a day.

Some parents admitted to Oxfam’s researchers that they dreaded the school holidays. Soup kitchens were also listed as helpful initiatives for the hungry.

Many agreed that food gardens could be useful. “The reason we are food-insecure is that we buy everything, so we need to produce and sell stuff and then use the money to buy what we need,” a Langeberg woman said.

But Oxfam pointed out in its report that food gardens require money and a great deal of hard work to maintain.

It costs money to eat properly. However, the cost of not doing so is also high.

“My child was sick and I never realised that it was malnutrition until I took him to the hospital. Even adults are being affected by diseases of malnutrition because some of the food we eat is not nutritious,” a women from Limpopo said.

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