Poorer pupils falling behind as food security declines, say experts

2013-01-23 00:00

MANY South African children are losing out on a chance in life because they are malnourished — a problem set to get worse as food production continues to drop.

Academics said yesterday that up to 30% of South African youngsters have no fresh fruit and vegetables in their diets. This was leading to stunted growth and poor concentration at school.

To make matters worse, some experts have disclosed that fruit and vegetable production was steadily declining. As a result, upper and middle class children who get sufficient nutrition would continue to pull ahead, while children born into poor families stood little chance.

This emerged at an agricultural conference on the Westville campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal yesterday.

Stephanie Midgley, a land researcher with OneWorld Sustainable Investments in Cape Town, told the delegates that vegetable production in South Africa had declined by seven percent in the decade up to 2009, while fruit production had dropped 20%.

“Food production is stagnant and it is declining … Demand is not being met by industries,” she said.

Alcohol consumption has meanwhile increased by 52%.

Midgley said income was a determining factor — many households in South Africa had limited access to food because they were poor.

People in rural areas still suffered the most, particularly in Mpumalanga, North West and Northern Cape, where food security was a “huge problem”. She said their worst-case scenario, where 33% of households were food insecure, had already transpired about two to three years ago.

This was not because there was not enough food in South Africa, said Midgley. “SA is nationally food secure, we have enough food, it’s just that people don’t have access [to food].”

Speaking to The Witness, Professor Albert Modi, dean and head of the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences at UKZN, said the conference was held to explore optimal ways to use limited resources to ensure sufficient food for all.

“Only a certain amount of land and water can be used for agriculture and at the current rate we will not be able to feed the world.

“We have 7,6 billion people on earth and one billion go to bed without food. We need to feed these people. Some do not eat good food; they can have a full stomach but not enough nutrients,” said Modi

He also called for an end to the “empty-headedness” in the agricultural industry, characterised by the recent violent farm strikes in the Western Cape.

“This was unfortunate. Everyone is just stuck in their own silos. Farmer is in his own silo, worker in his own, as well as government and unions. These different organisations have narrow-minded objectives. When something happens there is no chain of communication.”

Modi forecast that the farming strike would set back food security. “We need to talk to each other to solve problems,” he added.

The conference continues until tomorrow.

• ayanda.mdluli@witness.co.za

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