Food is a fundamental human right. No person should ever have to go a day without access to healthy, nutritious meals. But we all know this is not the case and that there is a lot to do to reach the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal of “zero hunger” by 2030.
Human beings evolved to live in a community with others, as this was vital to survival. At first, people lived in nomadic tribes, where people would hunt and gather food from natural resources. Later, around 12 000 years ago, human populations in Africa and the Middle East began to domesticate wild plants and animals to control the growth and supply of food. This was the beginning of agriculture, and it allowed for more secure food provisions for people, which allowed for the populations in which people lived to grow from hundreds to thousands and, eventually, to millions of people.
Farming and civilisation began together, and one cannot exist without the other.
Countries are communities of people, and the system of feeding people is complicated to manage. We have governments to make decisions about how everyone in the country gets their rights met, which includes how people will be fed. This is a challenging task, and some countries have fewer threats to their food production systems than others.
We speak about countries with fewer threats to their food systems as “food secure” and countries with many threats to their food systems as “food insecure”. Food security is influenced by many factors, such as economic inequality, wars, the type of agriculture used in a country, food wastage, and climate change.
But food security is not just about the ability of a country to produce and deliver food to its citizens. It is also about ensuring that this food is nutritious and safe for people to eat. For example, a country may be able to provide maize to every citizen. Still, if those citizens do not also eat sources of protein, vitamins, and fibre, like meat and vegetables, they will not receive all the nutrients necessary to stay healthy, and may fall sick and not be able to live their lives to the fullest. In many cases, this even leads to death. This is why the human right to food needs to be met for every human being.
Food security is the responsibility of governments, but the difficult task of providing food comes down to all the farmers involved, making it a very stressful job. Farmers must be confident that there will be enough water, nutrients in the soil, and seeds to grow the crop. They have to hope that animals and insects do not come to eat the produce, that no fires occur, and that the rain they anticipate will come. These days, farming is also costly, and crop failures may lead to a large amount of debt.
There are many threats to a community’s ability to produce food and, thus, for people to receive it. We saw during the Covid-19 pandemic how many people lost their jobs and this impacted their ability to both produce and access food. Now, the Russian war in Ukraine is causing skyrocketing prices of food due to a lack of grain, fertilisers, and increases in fuel prices. Because of globalisation, events in distant countries impact the food security of all nations. They impact small-scale subsistence farmers, of which there are many in Africa, and large, commercial farmers who provide food to millions of people.
Africa is one of the world’s most food-insecure regions, affecting 278 million people in in 2022, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). In South Africa, 24.3% of people were impacted by moderate and severe food insecurity in 2019, which increased to 38.5% in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the number of people that range from being uncertain about when or how much food they will be able to eat to those who have run out of food for a day or more.
In Southern Africa, much food production relies on rainfall instead of river irrigation. As the climate of the world changes, we have been seeing less rainfall and hotter temperatures in large parts of Southern Africa. This change in our climate is a big threat to our food systems. We need many scientists to be trained in understanding the impacts of climate change and how its complex effects will impact our food systems.
Although the government is responsible for ensuring that each citizen’s right to food is met, there are steps we can take to increase our food security. Growing your food is one of the best ways to improve your food security, although this is more accessible to some than others. People in urban areas tend to be more food secure than rural areas, but not by much. Urban food gardens and farms can increase food security in and around cities, and these initiatives should be supported. Sustainable farming practices use less water, prevent water loss from the soil, and grow more drought-resistant crops.
Growing your food is a beautiful practice and can lead to a much healthier diet. Other than this, it is essential to take note of the state of food supply in your broader community and to try to stay informed about what risks may affect you and how you can ask your local government for assistance.
Tell us: Is the community you live in food secure or food insecure?