Covid-19: Food security and wellness are likely to be compromised

Contrary to what Agribusiness and government reports tell us – that food shortages are unlikely during the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak – the truth is that South Africa might be food secure at macro-level, but insecure at household-level.

They make these claims because they are not in touch with reality: They miss the most vital point that South African agriculture is export-oriented and the food left for local consumption is expensive.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that the food supply chain is under strain all over the world because of the virus, which has led to a significant increase in demand, price volatility, increased inflations, complications of exchange controls and trade relations and weak management of macroeconomic dynamics.

Unfazed by this, the message from the government has been that South Africa is an agriculturally endowed country and generally a net exporter of agricultural and food products.

The reality is that many South Africans went to bed hungry even before the pandemic. Their plight will be worsened by the virus – and the lockdown.

However, what they fail to grasp is that while South Africa is a net exporter of agricultural products, most South Africans are ravaged by poverty and have to fend for themselves from the gnawing and painful pang of hunger.

Food is not a luxury, but a basic necessity for human existence and self-sustenance. The reality, however, is that many South Africans went to bed hungry even before the pandemic. Their plight will be worsened by the virus – and the lockdown.

The truth is that Covid-19 will cause panic – it has already led to panic-buying and stockpiling. This will, as a consequence, lead to further disenfranchisement of the most vulnerable in society – the unemployed, the elderly and most of those dependent on a single source of income.

The most crucial question with which Marxists are forever seized is: What is to be done?

The closure of schools means hundreds and thousands of poor children in rural areas and informal settlements will no longer access the food and nutrition they rely on when are at school.

We have a duty to call for the continued provision and delivery of food through school-feeding programmes and to ensure it is regularly monitored. Child hunger is a terrible challenge; more than a million households with children aged five years or younger experience hunger every day with many routinely skipping meals. Food can be delivered at homes or fetched from collection points by the parents or caregivers of such children.

Community members and organisations should be mobilised to provide food to children in dire need via food banks and other forms of food conservation and dispensary.

No child, whether school-going or not, should go hungry during these difficult times. Every child, under these circumstances, is your child, my child and everybody’s child. The state should take care of the children and bring all homeless and those without guardians under the care and sanctuary of the state.

In meeting immediate needs, safeguarding access to food and nutrition for the most vulnerable, especially children, the following measures should be considered:

1. Promote school feeding at home;

2. Establish municipal food banks;

3. Compel food-producing companies and food retail stores to recycle consumable foodstuffs and make it available to the most vulnerable;

4. Establish humanitarian food reserves;

5. Ensure emergency foodstuff is mobilised;

6. Ensure all food needs are fully met;

7. Scale up nutritional support and feeding schemes;

8. Adjust social protection programmes for food prices;

9. Impose restrictions on price hiking; and

10. Make immediate and urgent increases in food supply available from farm food production.

In this list of interventions, inclusion of grains, margarines, oils, vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs and milk in the form of food vouchers should be daily necessities during the prevention and control period of this epidemic.

Should lockdown be extended beyond 21 days, there is a risk of food insecurity because of the demobilisation of the workforce, restricted movement of goods and panic-buying of food.

The 9 million unemployed, many of whom are parents, must not be forgotten. The government and social partners should be mobilised to provide a once-off universal basic income as a temporary relief measure. Is this too much to ask?

It is heartless and evil to confine people to their homes and expect them to eat oxygen. Poor people need food to keep them sane. Hunger or an empty stomach knows no bounds. As the adage goes, the most dangerous man is a hungry man – do not say you were not warned.

China is accelerating payments of unemployment insurance benefits and expanding social safety nets and has injected 1.2 trillion yuan (R3 billion) into the economy to expand social wage spending; secure nutrition to feed the nation; and relentlessly fight the Covid-19.

This is in sharp contrast to what the South African government is doing; it looks for hand-outs and donations from capitalist “philanthropists”. We must resist being at the mercy of those whose wealth is as a consequence of our pain.

The solution can come only from abolishing the dysfunctional and barbaric system of capitalism; dismantling the patterns of private land ownership and property through the expropriation and restoration of land to the people; empowering them to work the land, feed themselves, their families and their fellow humans in the spirit of brother and sisterhood.

*Sam Matiase is an EFF central command team member, head of land and agrarian reform and an MP. He wrote this opinion in his personal capacity


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