Join hands to end child hunger

Phumla WilliamsThe news of Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini distributing food parcels to distressed communities in North West was not well received. She was accused of campaigning, while implementing a long standing government programme to assist distressed communities out of poverty.

It is distressing for a parent not to be able to put food on the table and having to send a child to bed hungry. Falling asleep under such circumstances is almost impossible because when hunger kicks in, you cannot think of anything else. During October the international community marks Food Security Month with World Food Day being commemorated annually on 16 October.

In our country, 12 million South Africans have insufficient access to food. Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Tina Joemat-Pettersson says “For the greater number of South Africans who are gainfully employed, it was unthinkable that such huge numbers of citizens were going to bed hungry.”

Although food insecurity is one of our biggest challenges, South Africa has made positive advances in this area. The recent General Household Survey (GHS) 2012 released by Statistics South Africa,  indicates that the percentage of households that experienced hunger declined from 29,3 per cent in 2002 to 12,6 per cent in 2012, while the percentage of individuals who experienced hunger decreased from 23,8 per cent to 10,8 per cent over the same period. 

It also highlighted that access to food was most serious in North West where 34,6 per cent of households was severely affected. They were followed by Northern Cape (28,1 per cent), Eastern Cape (28 per cent), Mpumalanga (25,7 per cent) and Free State (23,7 per cent).

"The uncomfortable truth is that while South Africa is a food secure country, an alarming number of people are not getting sufficient food”, she said.

According to Section 27 of the Constitution, every citizen has the right to have access to sufficient food and if they do not have, “the State must by legislation and other measures, within its available resources, avail to progressive realisation of the right to sufficient food”.

Government has taken decisive steps to ensure we reach our National Development Plan target to eradicate hunger and food insecurity by 2030. Last month Cabinet adopted a National Policy of Food and Nutrition Security which will ensure that in future Government’s food production and land reform programmes are better aligned.  

The policy includes a Food Production Intervention programme called Fetsa Tlala (End Hunger), which President Jacob Zuma will launch tomorrow, 24 October 2013 at the John Taolo Gaetsewe District Municipality in the Northern Cape.

Fetsa Tlala aims to promote self-sufficiency by supporting communities to produce food on communal and under-utilised land in the Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the North West.

Minister Joemat-Pettersson stated: “Fetsa Tlala is aimed firstly at ensuring that under-used agricultural land is brought under production. We will work with communities, assisting them as required, to ensure that we use every bit of land to produce food.”

Currently the programme focusses on 200 000 hectares of land with a five year target of one million hectares. The main commodities are maize and beans. Once the crops are produced and harvested, Government will ensure there is sufficient support for small, medium and micro enterprises in the processing sectors, for example to mill or pack the vegetables.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is also working with the Department of Trade and Industry to establish markets for these small-scale producers. Furthermore, Government will create opportunities for these smallholder farmers and producers within hospitals, the school feeding scheme, the South African National Defence Force and correctional facilities.

Although hunger and malnutrition will cause distress for anyone, it is especially concerning when children are affected because of the impact it has on their physical and cognitive development. It is for this reason that another initiative to cushion the poor was introduced in 1998, called the Child Support Grant (CSG).

The CSG Impact Assessment (2012) commissioned by the Department of Social Development confirmed the importance of this type of grants for child development. It states: “Children who were enrolled in the CSG at birth completed significantly more grades of schooling than children who were enrolled at age six, and achieved higher scores on a math test.”

As an additional measure to ensure learners can concentrate in class, the Department of Basic Education spends R266,6 million on the National Schools Nutrition Programme to provide over nine million learners with warm, nutritious meals in four out of five schools.  

Besides social grants, the Department of Social Development has also implemented the Food for All Campaign. Through a successful partnership with FoodBank South Africa, 370 000 food parcels are distributed every month to those that experience severe food insecurity.

Speaking during the launch of the Food for All Campaign in 2011, the Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini made the crucial point that government cannot eradicate hunger alone. 

“Over the past 17 years, both the private sector and civil society have tried to address hunger and malnutrition. However, with little cooperation between these sectors, the response has been fractured and the impact inadequate. We call on the private and business sectors to join hands with us to protect our people from hunger and malnutrition,” she said.

The fact that people are going hungry in our country must be troubling to everyone that enjoys three meals daily. Government would like to encourage individuals, non-profit organisations and the business community to work with us, so that we can ensure that no South African will go to bed hungry again by 2030.

The programme of social grants, food parcels and other related measures meant to cushion the poor have been programmes of government for some time. Government cannot fold its arms in midst of poverty; that would not be a caring government of the poor.

Working together we can defeat hunger and ultimately poverty!

Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)

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