SA food is extremely safe but reaches too few – report

The Global Food Security Index serves as a stern warning of the urgent actions needed to address household food insecurity, says Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede

Although South Africa's food is very safe and nutritious, food insecurity is still widespread on a household level. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Although South Africa's food is very safe and nutritious, food insecurity is still widespread on a household level. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

South Africa may rank the highest in food security out of 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, but the country’s global performance over the last decade has declined significantly.

This is according to the recently released 2021 Global Food Security Index (GFSI), which measures 58 indicators that drives food security in 113 countries around the world.

With an overall score of 57.8/100, South Africa demonstrated stability in food security despite the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts. It also showed strength in areas such as food safety and the availability of micronutrients in the food.

But Mzansi’s global ranking fell slightly from the 69 to 70, and when using a new methodology which analyses a country’s food security against challenges such a climate change, Mzansi’s global ranking dropped by eight spots in the last decade.

Lower scores across the globe

A decline in scores was not unique to South Africa, says Tony Esmeraldo, business director for Southern Africa at Corteva Agriscience, who sponsors the annual report.

Tony Esmeraldo, business director for Corteva Agriscience in Southern Africa. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“After making rapid gains in the first few years of its inception, the GFSI scores across all nations peaked in 2019, before dropping over the past two years against the backdrop of the pandemic, conflict and climate variability.”

Yet, high-income nations in Europe still lead the Index, as they did a decade ago, with Ireland securing the top position with a score of 84. “Similarly, sub-Saharan African nations continue to dominate the bottom portion, with Burundi achieving the lowest score at 34.67.”

Within sub-Saharan Africa, Mzansi is followed by Botswana, Mali, Ghana and Burkina Faso. Tanzania showed the most improvement since the Index’s inception, increasing its score by 13.3 to 48. 

Food security at household level

In South Africa, the decade-long decline is being described as a source of concern.

Director-general of the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Mooketsa Ramasodi. Photo: Suppled/Food For Mzansi

Mooketsa Ramasodi, director-general of the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development, says that food security is not only the availability of food but the access and affordability of food in all households. South Africa might generally be a food-secure country, but it is characterised by food insecurities at a household level.

“It is not all doom and gloom, because the country still continues to excel in one of the sub-indices used to measure global food security, which is food availability,” Ramasodi says.

He highlights the latest data from the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy, which indicates a stellar field crop performance in the second quarter of 2021: a 96% increase when compared to quarter 2 of 2020.

“Maize is the largest contributor to the field crops and increased by 166% year on year. This is a remarkable development for producers in the country.”

A sense of urgency

“Insights from the GFSI serve as critical indicators of the wellbeing of a country,” says Christo van der Rheede, Agri SA’s executive director. “In the case of South Africa, it is a stern warning of the urgent actions that need to be taken to address household food security, amongst other essential factors.”

“There is no doubt that the findings will bring a renewed sense of urgency to build a more food secure South Africa.”

South Africa scored 92.7/100 on food safety and 86.6 on the availability of micronutrients such as vitamins in its food supply. Weak areas, achieving 0 points, comprised ongoing fluctuations in agricultural productivity, which can make it difficult to predict and plan for a consistent food supply, and the lack of policy commitments.

“The biggest short-term challenges the industry will face, in addition to climate change pressures, are rising input, labour, electricity and fuel costs,” notes Esmeraldo.

He says that the findings highlight food security as a systemic challenge worldwide, that can impact even the most wealthy and resourced countries.

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