While overall food security has deteriorated for the second year in a row in 2020, South Africa has ranked the highest in food security out of 28 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
This was revealed at the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) webinar presented by Corteva Agriscience and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which measures the drivers of food security in both developing and developed countries.
Core factors taken into account across 113 different countries include the affordability, availability, quality and safety of food, alongside natural resources and resilience.
Trailing behind South Africa was Botswana, Ghana, Mali, and Ivory Coast while Finland, Ireland and Netherlands scored the highest among the 113 countries assessed.
Pratima Singh, GFSI project lead, explains that South Africa’s high performance was stimulated by the strong scores that they had received in seven indicators.
The country achieved 94.3 points for its food safety, which includes national nutrition plans, dietary diversity and guidelines, nutritional monitoring and access to drinking water and the presence of so-called food “safety-net” programmes. These are public initiatives that protect the poor from food-related shocks.
Singh adds that when it comes to quality and safety of food, which remains a challenge in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa ranked number one. In terms of affordability and availability it came in second and ninth, respectively.
Change in research methodology used
Although South Africa may have scored exceptionally well in Sub-Saharan Africa it has dropped from the 67th to the 69th place out of 113 countries. Singh explains that this happened after GFSI’s formally included the “natural resources and resilience” category as a fourth main category.
“This addition marks a significant shift in methodology, revealing food systems’ resiliency against climate change,” she explains.
In addition, Singh explains that the lack of effective food safety-net programmes has also been a main driver of this decrease, as well as increasing costs of food.
“Overall, food affordability deteriorated, partly due to food price inflation and loss of income due to the pandemic. Covid-19, which has exposed existing vulnerabilities in the global food system, is likely to exacerbate food needs,” she says.
Tony Esmeraldo, business director for Corteva Agriscience in Southern Africa, acknowledged that the country scored poorly due to the volatility of agricultural production and food security as well as access policy commitments.
However, there is improved performance in food safety, more investment in agricultural research and development, low dependency on food imports, as well as dependency on natural capital and crop storage facilities, which are critical for ensuring sufficient food supply.
Building resilience in agriculture
“The demand for not just more food, but more nutritious food is growing by the day. And yet, farmers who feed all of us are asked to grow significantly more with fewer resources,” says Esmeraldo.
“Food security is declining, and everyone must recommit to building resiliency in agriculture through innovation and collaboration.”
Esmeraldo SAYS although South Africa fared better than other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, food inadequacy and hunger are still a challenge.
“Covid-19 has also exposed the extent of how poverty-stricken households, who are vulnerable to economic shocks, are battling with lack of money to buy food and the inability to produce their own food.
“Lockdown restrictions have ravaged many industries with those living below the poverty line desperate for food. Farmers, mainly small-holders, also suffered a significant loss of income as lockdowns prevented market access and interrupted the planting season,” says Esmeraldo.
Despite the challenges posed, in particular by the pandemic, South Africa’s regional ranking comes as no surprise, adds Herman Warren, Africa director at The Economist Corporate Network.
“The country’s agricultural sector is globally competitive and tremendously resilient. The country’s political leadership was also keenly aware of the need to protect livelihoods and pulled out the stops to cushion the economic blow brought on by Covid-19, for example by providing direct cash payments to citizens that contributed to food security.”
Global food security
On a global level, the 2020 Global Food Security Index report shows overall decline in food security. This comes after seven years of consistent improvement. The pandemic has exposed the strengths and vulnerabilities of our food supply system, revealing the role of persistent inequality in driving food insecurity.
Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa recorded the weakest average performance across all regions examined in the latest GFSI report. Rising food prices were the main factor driving deterioration in the overall food security environment.
Along with persistently high levels of poverty, the region has experienced significant food price volatility in the past decade. However, food availability has improved.
“Food security will require significant investment in research and development to increase the production potential of South African farmers; new technologies and adoption of more sustainable farming practices; and the development and adoption of digital platforms to manage and use data to make better decisions across the food chain,” says Esmeraldo.