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Threats to Recovery: Getting it Wrong is not an Option

According to a recent survey conducted by the National Income Dynamic Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM), more than 3 million people have become unemployed between February and April this year – mostly low-income earners. They anticipate that this trend will continue, given the underlying labour market dynamics.

The escalating number of ‘new poor’ will drastically increase the number of vulnerable people needing access to social support, in a country where we already have more people on social grants than we have in formal employment. The path to recovery will undoubtedly be long and hard, as we brace for tough times ahead. What we do in the next 24 – 36 months, as a country, is crucial to rebuilding what was callously eroded by the Zuma presidency and then violently decimated by Covid-19.

Below, we examine a few plausible threats to our recovery as a nation, which we cannot afford to get wrong.

Threat #1: An Inept Government

As unemployment continues its downward trajectory, poverty will deepen and spread rapidly across existing and ‘new communities’ that were previously not affected. More and more people will not be able to afford to purchase food.

National, provincial and local government, in its current form, will eventually lead us to a failed state; unless they urgently and drastically restructure, manage government spending with the due diligence it deserves and implement proper performance-based outcomes for cabinet and government departments.

Government must, also, purposely discontinue using the state machinery as an extension of the ruling party and quit pandering to unions, taxi associations and the like. It is essential that government formulates and implements policies that will constructively rebuild the economy, create jobs, provide adequate social support and take the necessary steps that will build confidence in the people it serves.

Threat #2: An Over-burdened and Under-resourced NPO Sector

Sadly, because we cannot rely on our current government to comprehensively address the social needs in poor communities, there is a heavy reliance on civil society organisations (CSOs) or non-profit organisations (NPOs) to fill the void left by government and provide crucial humanitarian, developmental and advocacy services in under-served communities, despite social protection of our vulnerable citizens being the direct responsibility of government and the right to access safe and nutritious food being enshrined in our constitution. Most NPOs survive on meagre resources, as is, and the pandemic has had a negative impact on their operations and ability to respond effectively to the pandemic.

A report released in June 2020 by Epic Africa (The Impact of Covid-19 on Civil Society Organisations) paints a bleak picture for organisations that are invariably the only lifeline for millions of destitute people across South Africa. The report states that CSOs services in under-served communities are needed now more than ever.

Of the CSOs surveyed to determine the impact of the pandemic on their operations and sustainability, they found that:

  • 98% reported that Covid-19 impacted and disrupted their operations
  • 55,69% experienced a loss in funding
  • 84,48% report that they were not prepared for the impact of Covid-19 on their operations
  • 49,87% introduced cost-cutting measures to cope with the impact of the pandemic
  • 77,97% report that Covid-19 will have a devastating impact on their future sustainability.

There cannot be an effective recovery without the support of NPOs. Funding is crucial to keep them going. Thousands of community kitchens provide meals for those who cannot afford to buy food or for people who run out of money 2 weeks into the month. Partnerships between NPOs and the corporate sector is crucial at this time of recovery so that NPOs have the needed resources to respond appropriately in vulnerable communities.

Threat #3: A Food System that Marginalises the Poor

A food system is a complex mix of activities involving the production, processing, transportation and consumption of food. The transformation of food systems has been a topic of vibrant discussion and robust debate, for decades now. Issues concerning the food system include governance, economics, sustainability, food waste and the impact on the environment on peoples’ health.

In its Report on the State of Food Security released in mid-July, the World Health Organisation (WHO) emphasises that any approach to addressing hunger and all forms of malnutrition must also consider the transformation of food systems – making healthy food more affordable and accessible. “New evidence presented in this report shows that healthy diets are unaffordable for many people of every region across the world, especially for the poor and those facing economic challenges.

The health impacts associated with a poor diet are significant and hugely detrimental to our growth and development as a nation.” According to WHO, a healthy diet protects against malnutrition in all its forms, as well as non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Since food systems are inherently complex, transforming food systems will undoubtedly be equally complex and could take years to achieve. However, since South Africa has a net surplus of food, one less-complex solution is to find ways to connect this world of surplus to a world of need – which is what FoodForward SA has been promoting since its inception in 2009. While we do receive good quality edible surplus food from donor partners, it’s only a drop in the ocean when compared with the estimated volume of surplus food circulating through the food system, annually. Only some businesses understand that donating, rather than dumping, edible food is not only good for business but also good business given the immediate cost-savings associated with donating food.

Convincing manufacturers to donate rather than dump or incinerate food is not always easy. While countries like France, Italy and others have introduced laws to force food companies to donate surplus food to NPOs, it seems like South Africa is a long way from getting such legislation enacted – not for a lack of trying on our part. We should not, however, need to force food manufacturers to donate food. Rather, they should take the view that it is their obligation to do so, given our social context.

Food security and nutrition are inextricably linked. The high cost of healthy food coupled with its low affordability means that millions of people simply cannot access healthy food, leading to food insecurity on a grand scale. Food insecurity leads to various forms of malnutrition which could lead to undernutrition and obesity, placing a huge burden on our already-stretched health system and producing a less-than-healthy workforce.

It is still too soon to accurately assess the impact of the lockdown and containment measures associated with Covid-19. One thing is clear –millions of people will experience severe hardship for years to come if progress to recovery stalls. This will set our country’s development back severely – which we simply cannot afford.

Andy Du Plessis

FoodForward SA Managing Director

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