Marguerite Pienaar -Non-Technical Article - Winner 2023

Marguerite Pienaar -Non-Technical Article - Winner 2023

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Marguerite Pienaar -Non-Technical Article - Winner 2023

Hollard Insure and and Agri News Net - Young Agri Writers awards

Food for thought: understanding food security and South Africa’s food security environment


When you hear the term “Food security” what comes to mind? In reality, it means different things to different people. Various disciplines, including agriculture, sociology, health, and economics, approach food security from different angles. These perspectives highlight the intricate web of factors contributing to food security, from biotechnology and land management to cultural influences, population growth, and public health. But what exactly is food security, and why should we care about it? For the past four decades, the world has grappled with the persistent issue of hunger and malnutrition, affecting between 800 million to 1.2 billion people.

Figure 1 below shows a world map indicating the prevalence of insufficient food consumption developed by the Word Food Programme (WFP).


Figure 1: The WFP's Real-Time Hunger Map

Source: World Food Programme (WFP)


The map measures acute hunger, denoting that people are not able to meet food consumption requirements in the short term. According to the real time data[1], 712 million people do not have sufficient food consumption across 88 countries. This staggering statistic highlights the urgent need to address global food security comprehensively. However, despite its global significance, food security remains widely misunderstood and misinterpreted.


Understanding the basics


The concept of food security dates back to the 1970s when it gained prominence in international discussions. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations played a fundamental role in defining and promoting food security as a global goal. It emerged in response to concerns about rising global populations, increasing food production, and the potential for food shortages. At its core, food security means having regular access to an adequate food supply not only for today but also for the foreseeable future.


Functioning in the food security space, the likeliness of coming across this definition from the FAO: “Food security is the state in which all individuals have consistent access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy life” is inevitable. This definition encompasses several key components that form the building blocks of understanding food security. Firstly, availability meaning there must be an adequate supply of food, either through local production or imports, to meet the population's needs. Secondly, access which entails people must have the financial and physical means to obtain the food they require. This involves issues such as income, distribution, and infrastructure. Thirdly, the utilisation component that means food should be safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate, ensuring that it contributes to good health and well-being. Lastly, stability in food security should be consistent over time, without significant fluctuations in supply or access.


Measuring food security is a complex task due to its multifaceted nature. Various tools and indicators have been developed to assess food security at different levels, from individual households to entire nations. The Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS), Coping Strategies Index (CSI), Household Hunger Scale (HHS) and the Global Hunger Index (GHI). One commonly used measurement is the Global Food Security Index (GFSI), which evaluates the food security environment in countries based on four dimensions namely availability, affordability, quality & safety, and sustainability& adaptation of food. The GFSI measuring tool, developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), evaluates 113 countries by scoring them on each dimension and ranking them against one another. Over the years, the measurement of food security has evolved to account for changing global dynamics and emerging challenges. Considering the basic concept of what food security is and the possible measurement tools, the next question is: “What picture does South Africa’s food security environment sketch?”.


South Africa’s food security environment


Building on the basics and focusing on the GFSI measurement, South Africa’s food security environment has been deteriorating over the past years. Figure 2 below depicts a 3,2% in South Africa’s overall food security environment score.


Figure 2: South Africa's Food Security Environment 2022

Source: Author’s own compilation from EIU

As outlined by the 2022 GFSI report, South Africa's score and rank have experienced deterioration owing to declines in all four the dimensions seen above. According to the World Food Programme, about 26% of South Africa's population experiences food insecurity, with 4% facing severe hunger. Some of the main factors leading to these deteriorations include, change in the average food cost, access to agricultural inputs, volatility in agricultural production, food security and access policy commitments, dietary diversity, water and political commitment to adaptation.


In conclusion


Food security is a concept that includes much more than just having enough food to eat. It involves the availability, access, utilisation, and stability of food, all of which are critical for a healthy and thriving population. In South Africa, as in many parts of the world, food security challenges persist due to a complex web of factors. Determining responsibility for ensuring food security is another challenge. Is it the responsibility of individuals, governments, international organisations, or a collective global effort?


I grew up in Johannesburg, harbouring a passion for economics and solving problems. After graduating high school, I started my studies at the University of Pretoria in Economics. I am currently a Junior economist at Grain SA where I get to combine my passion for economics, problem solving within the grain industry. I am also part-time busy with my Master’s degree with a focus on analysing South Africa’s food security environment.

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