Working Towards a Food Secure World

By Jessie Taylor

Our society is faced with a number of crises, and among the most pressing are climate change and increasing levels of poverty and inequality. It is these challenges that the Nelson Mandela Foundation looks to tackle this Nelson Mandela International Day with a call to action towards sustainability and equality. The theme for this year’s Nelson Mandela International Day is “Climate, Food and Solidarity”.

This year, on 18 July, Nelson Mandela would have celebrated his 105th birthday, and to honour his memory, the Nelson Mandela Foundation is embarking on long-term and sustainable interventions which equip communities to take climate action that ensures food security and thus alleviate poverty and inequality. “We need to ask ourselves if we are living up to the legacy Nelson Mandela has left us,” the Foundation said in a statement. “This year, the Mandela Day and Outreach programme wishes to reignite the global reach of Nelson Mandela International Day through global partnerships that will host tree planting and the capacitation of home-based and community food gardens around the world.”

Lack of Access To Food

Around a fifth of all South Africans do not have adequate access to food. According to Stats SA, out of almost 17,9 million households in SA in 2021, almost 80% (14,2 million) reported that they had adequate access to food, while 15% (2,6 million) and 6% (1,1 million) stated that they have inadequate and severe inadequate access to food, respectively. The World Food Programme (WFP) defines people as being food secure when “they have availability and adequate access at all times to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”.

Two-thirds of these households were in urban areas, and almost half a million of them were found in the country’s largest cities: Cape Town and Johannesburg. Stats SA found that challenges such as high unemployment, poverty, the energy crisis, and rising costs of living make food expensive and inaccessible to many, resulting in an increasing number of households experiencing food inadequacy and hunger. Food insecurity can have especially dangerous implications for children, who are at a high risk of acute malnutrition, which affects both physical and cognitive development.

Children who suffer from malnutrition and hunger struggle to concentrate and learn, placing them in an extremely vulnerable position and ultimately perpetuating the cycle of poverty and ill health. Child malnutrition is particularly concerning in South Africa. More than half a million (683 221) households with children aged five years or younger reported experiencing hunger, according to Stats SA.

According to Children Count, a data and advocacy project by the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town, undernutrition is highly prevalent in South Africa. The indicator found that around 10% of children live in households were children go hungry. Stunting is the most common manifestation of malnutrition in South Africa, affecting 27% of children under five years old. In addition to high levels of food insecurity, the number of households engaged in agricultural activities remains relatively low. Only around 3,1 million (17,3%) households are involved in agricultural activities, and these households are mainly located in non-metro and rural areas.

About 12% of households that reported being involved in agricultural activities said that they were doing it as a main source of food, while more than three-quarters said that it provides an extra source of food for the household. Food insecurity does not only affect South Africa. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, world hunger has increased by 150 million since 2019 (pre-COVID-19 pandemic) to 828 million people in 2021. Asia and Africa are the worst affected continents.

Climate Change and Its Impact on Food


On a global scale, food prices have soared in recent years as a result of the war in Ukraine, supply chain disruptions, and the continued economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. But a bigger risk to food security lies in our changing climate.

Global warming is influencing weather patterns, causing heat waves, heavy rainfall, and droughts – all of which impact farmers’ ability to produce crops. The rising global food commodity prices in 2021 were a major factor in pushing approximately 30 million additional people in low-income countries toward food insecurity.

One of the dangers climate change presents is crop failure, and this, in turn, can lead to food shortages and rising food prices. In short, rising temperatures mean that crops will require more water. In areas of the world that are already struggling with drought or low rainfall, climate change impacts agricultural production with diminishing water supplies and increased extreme weather events such as storms and droughts.

Failing crop yields, especially in regions with high levels of poverty and food insecurity, will likely push more people into poverty. Those who face the highest risk of food insecurity are also those who are most likely to be affected by climate change related crop failures and hunger. An estimated 80% of the global population most at risk from climate change are in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, where farming families are disproportionately poor and vulnerable.

There is the risk that climate change could push millions more people into poverty, especially in countries where farmers often live at the edge of poverty and increasing food prices impact the pockets of poor urban consumers.

Working Towards a New Future

Global efforts are being made to improve food security, including increasing support for climate-smart agriculture and introducing technological interventions to enhance productivity and improve the resilience of farms. The World Bank is helping countries tackle food loss and manage flood and drought risks through the distribution of improved, drought-tolerant seeds; more efficient irrigation; expanded use of forestry for farming; and conservation agriculture techniques.

However, there are solutions that we can implement on a local level in our communities. One solution to improve food security for millions is to develop a culture of sustainable food gardens in various sites such as schools, clinics, parks and households. Improving food availability can be achieved through capacitating small-scale farmers and gardeners and influencing city and settlement design to give people greater access to arable land, equipment and infrastructural resources, and assisting with setting up small food enterprises in the community.

Community gardens allow a group of people to come together and plant a diverse range of food in public spaces. These gardens allow the community to work together and share in the food produced by the garden – giving multiple households access to nutritious food. In communities where unemployment levels are high, community gardening also provides a form of skill development and purpose for those who are unemployed.

Another solution lies in the planting of fruit trees. This can counteract the increasing degradation of land and forests that threatens food security and the environment. Agroforests can safeguard food security and accelerate socio-economic development in local communities, as well as reduce the impact of climate change by capturing carbon emissions. The Food and Agriculture Organisation has estimated that every year that more forest disappears in Africa, it costs the continent a 3% loss of GDP. On Nelson Mandela Day 2023, it is the vision of the Foundation that the world unites to decisively act against the intersection of climate change and food insecurity by establishing or working in community and home-based food gardens as well as planting trees.


How You Can Get Involved In Nelson Mandela International Day

Nelson Mandela International Day is an annual global celebration that takes place on 18 July to honour the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. This day is a call to action for individuals, communities, and organisations to reflect on Mandela’s values and principles and positively impact their communities. This year’s focus on food security and climate change has seen the Nelson Mandela Foundation championing long-term and sustainable interventions, such as community food gardens and planting one million trees.

South Africans are encouraged to give 67 minutes of their time towards changing the world for the better, just as Nelson Mandela did every day. Here are just five ways you can contribute:

1. Plant and grow fresh, organic and cost-effective produce in or for vulnerable communities.
2. Plant and grow trees, with an emphasis on fruit trees, to support food production for vulnerable communities.
3. Invest in sustainable food production platforms.
4. Embrace home and community planting and growing.
5. Donate your leftover and excess food to food reallocation organisations.

Sources: BizCommunity | Children Count | EWN | Food For Mzanzi | Nelson Mandela Foundation | Stats SA | World Bank

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