Nutrition Intervention is Vital to SA’s Covid-19 Recovery Efforts

March signals one year of South Africa’s Covid-19 dilemma.  We are so deep in a crisis that, with all our combined efforts to reverse our pre-Covid-19 quandary, coupled with the pandemic’s devastation, it will take years before we start to see tangible gains from our efforts. It is, therefore, important that  we accurately assess the situation and properly implement appropriate interventions  – because we just can’t afford to fail.

At the core of our crisis is deeply-rooted structural inequality, underpinned by poor education and poor nutrition. Since 50% of our youth do not complete grade 12, we have a huge skills shortage and a high unemployment rate. As a result, only a few succeed and the rest experience a lifetime of hardship. This inequality trap repeats itself over and over.

In terms of poor nutrition, the World Health Organisation regards this as the most important threat to the world’s health. They state that, overall, undernutrition is the single largest killer of children aged under 5-years (45%). Undernutrition is responsible for 3.1 million child deaths each year. This is supported by the University of Cape Town’s recently released 2020 Child Gauge report that refers to our current state of under- and over-nutrition as “the slow violence of malnutrition.” The report emphasises that “nutritional insecurity is one of the main reasons why we are stuck in a low-growth trajectory with little prospect of significant gains over the medium term.” It highlights that 1 in 4 children in South Africa are stunted (too short for their age) because they are not getting enough nutrients for healthy growth and development. “Most South African children now live in communities where healthy foods are no longer available or affordable.” This is a serious wake-up call for all of us – one that must be heeded. If we fail our children, our nation’s future fails along with it – and the consequences are unthinkable.

The National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) released its Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) Wave 3 Report in February 2021. Titled ‘Hunger in South Africa 2020’, it reveals some sobering information about recent hunger trends. “Of most concern is that we see rates of hunger, and especially child hunger, rising over time. The proportion of households reportedly running out of food increased by 41% in the third wave assessment,” concludes the report.

Providing food safety nets for vulnerable children is a high priority for FoodForward SA. We need to ensure that they receive the nutrition they need as early as possible. More than 30% of the 7,200 tons of food (a 41% year-on-year increase) we distributed during our 2020/2021 financial year was directed to beneficiary organisations that focus on vulnerable children and 81% of this food was nutritious. A further 10-15% can be attributed to other community programmes that include at-risk children. For example, we provide food parcels to several community health centres that target pre-natal and post-natal care patients, so that children get the nutrients they need to grow. These clinics also target patients who are breadwinners and who have lost their jobs. Through these organisations, we ensure that their children receive a meal before they leave for school and when they come home from school.

As we conclude the financial year, I am proud of what our staff, along with our generous food and financial donors, have collectively achieved. Our scaled efforts have allowed for the distribution of enough food to make 28 million meals, at an (indicative) cost of R0,80 per meal. We’ve distributed surplus food to 1,005 beneficiary organisations reaching 475,000 people daily!

What is even more exciting is that an independent study on the Social Return on Investment (SROI) of our Foodbanking model was concluded recently, a first of its kind for Africa. It demonstrates our quantifiable social impact. We will share the findings of this report on 18 March, when we host our stakeholder webinar. To register, email info@foodforwardsa.org.

Deepening inequality, rising food price inflation, escalating unemployment and a slow economy are clear threats to our social and economic stability and development. We are in for a rough ride in the months and years to come. If we are to see any gains at all, we must start with the basics – providing optimal nutrition to all our people so that they get the head start they need to succeed.

Andy Du Plessis

Managing Director

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