Households ‘can fight their own food insecurity’

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Households should bear in mind that the right to access to food does not mean relying only on government provisions, argues Pamela Matyolo, agricultural economist at the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMAC) under the Markets and Economics Research Centre (MERC). It also means that households should engage in subsistence smallholder farming to supplement their nutrition at affordable prices.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines food security, as a state whereby all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. This definition captures three food aspects the availability, access and the use. 

In essence this means it is not enough that food is available, but it should be accessibly and be utilised in a manner that contributes meaningfully to human health. With that in mind, South Africa is said to be food secured at the national level, implying the availability of sufficient food for all its citizens. However, food does not reach individuals at local levels, demonstrating food insecurity at the household level. 

Data highlighted that more than 13 million South Africans do not have access to food and that under-nutrition remains a major concern in South Africa, as noted by Altman’s work with his colleagues in 2009. The pandemic has potentially increased this number due to challenges associated to the country’s economic constraints. To curb this the South Africa government has supported the neediest citizens with social welfare grants as well as the relief grant to unemployed citizens during early Covid-19 months. 

Despite these efforts food insecurity persists at alarming levels at the household level in many parts of the country. While there could be a number of issues associated with these food disparities from national to household level, one major issue is the economic problem which causes many South Africans to be unable to afford food.  

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Causes of the recent rise in food prices

According to the household affordability index the total household food basket increased by 8.9% between September 2020 and April 2021, with sharp increases for the most consumed food items such as tomatoes (70%), sugar beans (42%), gizzards (31%), bananas (21%), cooking oil (20%) and maize meal (16%) to mention a few. 

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The current surge in food prices in South Africa can be attributed to a number of factors. These include imported commodities such as palm oil of which the country buys almost all of it from the global market, the international prices for maize which have pushed domestic maize prices high, as well as rising production costs.

Rising food prices mostly affect poor households as they must allocate greater proportions of their limited income just to feed household members.

In order to cope, poor households have to compromise the quality of their diet by buying cheaper, but less nutritious-balanced food, thus negatively affecting their health in the long-run. 

How can households fight food insecurity?

Households should also bear in mind that the right to access to food does not mean relying only on government provisions, but it also means that households should engage in subsistence smallholder farming. 

Rural households have the resource of land abundantly available to them, unlike the more densely populated urban areas. Therefore, rural households need to realise the potential of the land at their disposal and utilise it by engaging more in farming activities for subsistence purposes in efforts to decrease their food insecurity and affordability, as it is the case for many countries across the globe. 

This phenomenon can be easily observed across Asia and throughout Africa. This would assist to ease some pressure on buying basic food items from the market and perhaps enable them to sell some to boost their incomes. 

ALSO READ: Is the food industry creating hunger?

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