Even before Covid-19 reared its head, millions of South Africans went hungry every day, writes Gillian Le Cordeur, CEO of the Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IRMSA).
While efforts to feed the vulnerable have been long-established through organisations like FoodForward SA, the pandemic threatens to exacerbate the problem like never before.
With massive job losses already starting, and many more expected to come, even those never affected by hunger face the prospect of going without food, let alone proper nutrition.
Yet, whether our lifestyles are significantly impacted or we are in that group that simply needs to tighten their belts, the fact is hunger affects us all as a nation.
The humanitarian aspect of hunger cannot be ignored, but the indirect economic and societal consequences can literally bring a country to its knees.
Studies have shown that hunger has many adverse effects on both children and adults.
Undernourishment in mothers can result in birth defects. Children who go hungry will not only be sick more often but suffer from poor health and underdevelopment throughout their lives.
In adults, lack of food also causes poor health. Unfortunately, if they cannot afford food, they are also unable to buy medicines that assist their recovery. So they face a persistent downward spiral of illness.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website states that the impact of malnutrition on the global economy, which includes obesity, is estimated at USD 3.5 trillion per year. At a national level, 4% to 5% of a country’s GDP can be depleted by hunger.
Some of this loss can be accounted for by sick leave, but a substantial amount is attached to the support programmes needed to assist victims.
Not only does hunger sap a nation’s motivation; it also diminishes its citizens’ likelihood of becoming more economically active. Malnourished children may not live up to their educational potential and adult aspirations are hampered by stress, depression and other psychological disorders.
In South Africa, we’re seeing the rise of protests and crime as starving communities become desperate for survival. It is at this level we as a nation are all equally affected.
On the one hand, as looting and burglary increase, our personal security is put at risk. Of greater concern is political instability and the fracturing of national unity.
Some economists believe that the Arab Spring was ignited purely by the price of bread. While many hoped the resulting protests would lead to democracy and prosperity, the reality was political instability and economic uncertainty.
Right now, we need foreign investment from those who are basing their risk projections on local trends and the effectiveness of our government’s response to them. Or rather, our response as a nation.
The above points don’t even begin to cover the devastation of hunger at all levels of existence.
That’s why, if there was ever a time for us to stand together and reach out a helping hand, it’s not only now but over the next several years as well. That said, relief efforts are not immune to corruption, as we have witnessed in South Africa’s own national programmes as well as those of other countries.
The contemporary view is that hunger is a result of unsustainable food production practices in a world where growing populations challenge the scalability of established supply chains. More progressive thinkers rightly assert that the main problem is good governance.
Strict control of funds and resources is paramount to successfully getting food into the mouths of those in need. So is the sensible management of the complex operations required to collect, store, preserve, package and distribute meals effectively.
One can’t just drive a lorry of food parcels to the nearest community. There is a sophisticated supply chain at work based on the collaboration of numerous partners, each providing a specialised link that keeps the process alive.
While experience and focus are essential factors in making this huge undertaking work, the secret ingredient is integrity. And integrity comes from singularity of purpose.
Yes, governments certainly have the power to pull together massive resources, but execution should be entrusted to those who have demonstrated their dedication through a proven track record. No other political considerations should influence their performance.
At IRMSA, we identified FoodForward SA as this kind of champion and are putting our weight behind their cause.
In the words of Andy Du Plessis, MD of FoodForward SA: “We use quality edible surplus food from the supply chain, so our model is sustainable and environmentally friendly. Because all the food is donated, it costs us only R0,85 to provide one meal. We also prioritise providing food to the most vulnerable groups – children, women and youth. And, since 75% of our beneficiary organisations focus on education, skills development, women and youth, our food is a catalyst for social change in under-served communities.”
This is an amazing drive with far-reaching humanitarian, economic and societal benefits from an organisation with decades of proven integrity in their work.
FoodForward SA needs our donations now more than ever to meet the increased challenges presented by Covid-19.
Because, in the spirit of ubuntu, when we feed our nation, we feed ourselves.