In commemoration of World Food Day, Professor Julian May, director of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), shares insights on understanding the nature of the problem of food security, and how it could be addressed in South Africa.
Food security and nutrition are receiving renewed attention in international and national policy agendas. This has been accompanied by a profusion of concepts borrowed from diverse disciplines and then employed to describe challenges to achieving food security and adequate nutrition. The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) defines food security as existing “...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.”
The CoE-FS has adopted this
Through the Centre’s collaborative approach to research we’ve established that food security – particularly in South Africa – is something that results from a complex system of production, of processing, of distribution, and ultimately of the utilisation of food and the management of the waste that is caused from all of these activities.
That complexity leads to many puzzles. For instance, we know that the number of people who report
The recent Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) indicate that about 27% of South African children are stunted – which is staggeringly high and makes us an outlier even among countries of similar wealth. Child stunting is an indicator of long-term
We need to understand why this persists when we provide child grants, we fortify food, we provide free primary health care and we provide free vitamin supplementation. As an example, the Early Childhood Review reports that vitamin A supplementation coverage rates have improved and in 2015, over 57
If we are to find places to intervene to improve people’s access to food, and to improve the quality of the food that they’re eating – and quality in terms of both its safety as well as its nutritional value – we will have to identify the appropriate leverage points, the most useful pressure points where policymakers can do something about food security.
In the case of food security, there often are unintended consequences of different kinds of policy. And we have to accept and appreciate that it is not always within the ability or the powers of the government to do something about the things that cause food security. It’s a problem that involves not only government. It involves the private sector; it involves decisions that individual people and families take in their
We should also recognise that nutrition is a critical component of food security. There are several reasons for this.
The first is the nutrition of very young children. We know that if children don’t receive enough energy, and if they do not receive the right kinds of nutrients, it has a long-lasting impact on their future. Children who may be eating enough, but who are not eating well enough experience other forms of malnutrition. The Early Childhood Development Review reports
Proper nutrition is thus also important for adults. In South Africa and increasingly across Africa, we are experiencing – amid concerns of food security – problems of overconsumption where people are consuming too much energy. And not necessarily nutritious food, but food that causes people to become overweight and obese.
This leads to several problems, not only at the individual
Increasingly, food security is now recognised as being a ‘wicked problem’; in this case, wickedness means that it’s a problem that is difficult to solve. Meaning that there is not necessarily an obvious right or a patently wrong solution. And the solutions are not necessarily permanent. What works today does not necessarily work tomorrow. So solutions change over time, and what is a solution today could become a problem tomorrow.
Addressing these combined issues of complexity and of wickedness is going to require a particular kind of intervention, a particular kind of solution. We are now realising that food security – much like the issue of climate change – is what’s known as a collective-action problem, a problem that involves multiple stakeholders, and will require collective action from all of these stakeholders. One example that is foremost in our minds, for instance, is how we manage the current drought in the Western Cape; if individuals don’t manage their water consumption, then all in the Western Cape are all going to suffer.
We will have to think of new ways of doing business. For instance, if we continue to accept the promotion the consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages – foods whose consumption will lead to problems of overweight, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease – that will have
Article by: Julian May
Image by Julian May in Food Security Working Paper #002. Adapted from: Sobal et al (1998); Ostrom (2009)