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.
– FAO, 1996 World Summit
People who enjoy food security live in circumstances where safe, nutritious food is available and where they can acquire food of good quality in a socially acceptable way.
Sustainable nutrition includes a stable diet of healthy food and clean water in healthy living conditions.
Food security involves not only better food production but also better nutrition. When these conditions can be sustained, the quality of life improves.
Food security in South Africa
Many South Africans endure poverty and unemployment. Rising food prices prevent large numbers of households from purchasing enough nutritious food.
Food security largely depends on access to cash to purchase food. Cash is particularly necessary in urban areas where buying food is the dominant way to access food.
The majority of the population lacks land for growing its own food and has to continue purchasing food items, which are growing ever more expensive.
Food insecurity shows itself in undernutrition, notably stunting and micronutrient deficiencies, which coexists with increasing overweight and obesity and the associated hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Many South African children’s diet is insufficient to meet their nutrient requirements. They also experience low food variety and dietary diversity. Rates of childhood stunting (approximately 18% of children under six years) indicate a severe deficiency in essential nutrients or micronutrients during the growing years. This is called hidden hunger.
South African government initiatives
Several government policies designed to address food insecurity have been established and have led to food fortification, food supplementation, school feeding programmes and day care centre schemes.
The National School Nutrition Programme aims to enhance children’s active learning capacity, alleviate short-term hunger, provide an incentive for children to attend school and address micronutrient deficiencies.
Another government initiative that targets food insecurity is social grants.
Because of the country’s water shortage, agricultural production systems with a high water use efficiency must be identified and promoted.
Sustainable agriculture can enhance agricultural productivity by, for example, diversifying crop rotations, using organic soil nutrients, reducing soil erosion and improving water use efficiency.
Macronutrient deficiency and poor dietary diversity could be addressed by promoting subsistence farming and increasing awareness of the nutrient content of indigenous fruits and vegetables.
Urban farming and community food garden projects may contribute to household income and food security.