Why are so many people still going hungry?

2015-05-28 17:53
Picture: Beeld (File)

Picture: Beeld (File)

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Another red light. Another beggar. A couple of minutes worth of staring straight ahead, wishing he would go away. The reality of life in a country where a quarter of the population suffers from hunger on a regular basis is visible on almost every street corner. 

Yet, according to a report by non-governmental organisation Oxfam, South Africa is considered a “food-secure” nation. It “produces enough calories to adequately feed every one of its 53 million people”. Department of agriculture statistics show that over a ten-year period (1996-2005) exports of agricultural products grew on a compounded basis by 8.7%. In 2005, South Africa exported in excess of R25 billion worth of agricultural products. The country is certainly not short on food. 

The October 2014 study authored by Yared Teka Tsegay and Masiiwa Rusare from Africa Monitor, and Rashmi Mistry from Oxfam contains some very depressing statistics. One in four people currently suffers hunger on a regular basis and more than half of the population lives “in such precarious circumstances that they are at risk of going hungry”. 

So why are so many people still going hungry? The government has put various policies in place, none of which seem to be managing the problem. These include the Integrated Food Security Strategy, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ Integrated Food Security and Nutrition programme, the National Development Plan, the zero hunger programme, which included President Jacob Zuma’s controversial Masimbambisane Rural Development Initiative; the agriculture and social development departments’ Food Security and Nutrition Policy, which replaced the Integrated Food Security Strategy in 2013, and the Fetsa Tlala food security programme, aimed at subsistence and smallholder farmers. 

The Oxfam report contains some excellent solutions that include legislation, the improvement of local-level coordination and policy implementation, creating a fair, accountable and sustainable food industry, prioritising decent employment and income generation for people facing hunger, improving rights to land and means of production, tackling carbon emissions, and getting people talking. All great suggestions but they will take time to implement and succeed. 

The factors leading to hunger are deeply rooted in our society. According to Oxfam’s research these include low income and unemployment; gender inequality; access to land, water, tools and information; the market structure of the food industry; and the price squeeze. 

It’s a vicious cycle. Hunger generally means malnourishment, which leads to weaker immune systems and sickness. When people are weak they are unable to work or learn, which perpetuates poverty. South Africa needs to focus on food and feeding its people. If that means support for farmers, especially small farmers, connecting them to nearby markets, that is one step in the right direction. 

What we need is to work with what we have. There are little patches of land everywhere – state houses have garden space, pavements aren’t bricked up entirely, schools have loads of space that could be utilised more effectively. 

Communities could pool their resources and invest in worm farms and water tanks. Worm farms do have an initial outlay, but once they get going they are a never-ending source of compost and fertiliser. It’s a great way to recycle natural waste as well as get new plants – veggies and trees do grow in worm farm compost. Water tanks will ensure free water during the dry season. Plus, gardening is great exercise. People can never go wrong with more plants and trees in their environment, and being out in the sun is a great source of Vitamin D, as long as one isn’t stupid about it. 

Instead of burning old tyres during protests, they could be used to plant crops. Instead of filling dumpsites, old baths or basins would make great planters. 

Today is World Hunger Day – another seemingly insignificant hashtag on your Twitter feed. 

Hunger is seemingly an insurmountable problem. But there are little things that can be done. 

Plant a food pavement. A small bunch of spinach will go a long way in a meal that wouldn’t have contained any greens. Instead of ignoring the pesky beggar at a traffic light, keep a stash of tinned food (the tins that don’t require openers) within arm’s reach. Various non-governmental organisations (Conservation Guardians or the Men of Trees) focus on green projects such as edible gardens and their sustainability. Get involved, or donate to a charity that is. 

Contact your local soup kitchen. Buy local – your nearest fresh food market (not the big chain store) may be closer than you think. 

French supermarkets are being forced to sign contracts to donate unwanted food to charity. There are supermarkets that do that in South Africa – food that reaches its sell-by date is donated. Support those businesses. 

Ironically, it is World Burger Day too. If ever a take-out joint needed any nudge to feed its community, this would be it. Support those companies that promise to “feed a child”. Trust that they do. If you can ignore the recent KFC scandals – cleaning chickens on the floor and sharpening knives on the pavement – the company’s Add Hope campaign has raised R49.1 million that fed 70 000 of South Africa’s children. 

Further afield, one Philadelphia restaurant made headlines earlier this year when the media cottoned on to Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, which gives away free slices of pizza to homeless people with its “pay it forward system”, whereby customers can sponsor a slice of pizza. About 30 to 40 homeless people are able to eat for free at Rosa’s every single day. 

South Africans need to think smart to eradicate hunger. We can’t sit around waiting for the government to cut through the red tape and the tender irregularities and finally get their food programmes up and running. Little gestures go a long way in the lives of people who have nothing. We have to start somewhere.


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