FOOD POVERTY IS EMERGING AS A SIGNIFICANT THREAT ALONGSIDE THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

 

South Africa is facing multiple dilemmas during the COVID-19 pandemic, causing unbearable economic, financial, and social hardship. As we move to level three, several businesses will likely implement cost-cutting measures to ensure business continuity, which will inevitably lead to job losses. The most at risk of losing their jobs are the millions of people in the informal economy that have lost their ability to earn an income since March, because of the lock down. These include construction workers, domestic workers, waiters, factory workers, gardeners, hairdressers and barbers, shop assistants and hawkers, to name a few. The International Labour organisation (ILO) has warned that nearly half of the global workforce is in immediate danger of losing their jobs.

As our country’s combined efforts focus on how to operate within this challenging environment brought on by COVID-19, the prime casualties of this crisis will undoubtedly be our economy and jobs. As our economy shrinks, so will the availability of work.

A recent survey conducted by TransUnion show that 1 in 6 people in South Africa have lost their jobs since the beginning of the lock down, while 1 in 4 people report that their working hours have been reduced. Treasury estimates that about 1,5mn jobs will be lost as a result of COVID-19. Economists however estimate that number to be much higher – between 3 million and 4 million jobs.

Nonetheless, our unemployment rate will rapidly move towards the 50% mark, and this will result in an increased demand for food assistance. The demand for food relief from people and organisations reaching out to FoodForward SA since the onset of the lock down has reached unpresented levels. People contacting FoodForward SA say that they need food because they are the main breadwinners who have lost their income and have no money to buy food; or that the food is not lasting, and there is no money to buy more food. Sadly, this will become more prevalent in the coming months as vulnerable peoples’ meagre resources start to erode.

SASSA offices across the country are seeing people sleeping overnight just to be first in line to get help. “I don’t know what to do other than to stand here in this line” says a 19-year-old mother who camped outside SASSA’s offices in Cape Town with her baby for two nights (reported by News24 recently).

The Institute for Risk Management of South Africa (IRMSA) has cautioned that the plight for food has escalated and that they are seeing how communities are even more desperate than before. IRMSA’s Risk Report released earlier this year highlights several risks associated with widespread food shortages, most notably an increase in social unrest and crime. 

We anticipate that the effects of COVID-19 will be felt for a long while, at least over the next 18 – 24 months, and we will begin to see social inequality deepen even further, and food poverty will rise like we have not seen before in this country.

Government does not have the capacity nor the distribution network into local communities to meet the food needs of the people left desperate during this pandemic. It is therefore critical that mission driven organisations like NPOs are well supported financially to be in a position to address food insecurity in the coming months.

Food is the most basic human need – the most essential for human beings to survive and thrive. South Africa already has one of the highest rates of stunting in the world. Food poverty will increase the incidence of malnutrition and related diseases, and millions of people will start to present health-related problems if they do not get the proper nutrition for healthy living. Compromised immune systems will lead to greater susceptibility to COVID-19, and this will place an even greater burden on our ailing health system.

Since the start of the lock down at the end of March, FoodForward SA has increased its beneficiary organisation network by 66%, reaching 412,000 people through a network of 1,005 BOs. Thanks to generous financial and food partners, we distributed 3,100 tons of food – translating into 12,4mn meals. We are also thrilled that, as part of our scaling up, we will shortly be adding Limpopo to our service area, once the 14-ton refrigerated truck with an insulated trailer has arrived. Once Limpopo is up and running, we will extend our reach to include Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape. We are also increasing our reach into rural communities across South Africa so that food poverty does not escalate in these vulnerable communities.

Thanks to our recently formed partnerships with AgriSA and the Citrus Growers Association, we potentially have access to surplus produce from 28,000 farmers and over 1,000 farmer associations across all 9 provinces, which will provide much-needed fresh produce added to our food basket.

I am pleased to announce that, thanks to all our generous donors and partners, a total of R53mn was raised in response to our Special COVID-19 Appeal. These funds will put FoodForward SA in a much stronger position to respond rapidly to meet the growing demand for food across South Africa. Taking an 18 – 24-month view, we still need to raise an additional R43mn to be in a position to scale up further so that we can support an estimated 1,500 BOs across all 9 provinces, reaching around 750,000 people daily.

We rely on your continued support to help us repair the social fabric in under-served communities, as we strive to realise a South Africa without hunger.

Andy Du Plessis
Managing Director