Act now to mitigate the impending food crisis — or face starvation and riots
The response to the pandemic has taught us that leaders of developed countries are not capable of working together to protect lives. As the world scrambles for food, in coming months it is more likely that we will see a repeat of what happened with Covid vaccines. South Africa should steal a lead and show the world how to respond fairly and equitably to the looming hunger catastrophe.
The 19 May edition of The Economist doesn’t mince words. Its front page features a startling image of skulls replacing the grains on stalks of wheat and its headline reads, “The coming food catastrophe.”
Referring to the war in Ukraine as battering “a global food system already weakened by Covid-19, climate change and an energy shock”, The Economist argues that “war is tipping a fragile world towards mass hunger”.
In response, it suggests that “states need to act together, starting by keeping markets open. World leaders should see hunger as a global problem urgently requiring a global solution.”
On Monday, the World Economic Forum warned of “dire human consequences from the fragmentation of the global economy”, with a survey of chief economists predicting:
- Inflation expectations are highest in the US, followed by Europe and Latin America;
- Further declines in real wages predicted in both high and low-income economies;
- World facing worst food insecurity in recent history — especially in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia;
- Multinationals are realigning supply chains along geopolitical fault lines, risking a new economic iron curtain and further price spirals;
- Developing economies face trade-offs between the risk of debt crisis and securing food and fuel.
The alarm bells have, in fact, been ringing off the hook for some months. But that doesn’t mean we are going to see action.
Sadly, the response to the pandemic has taught us that leaders of developed countries are not capable of working together to protect lives. As the world scrambles for food in the coming months, it is more likely that we will see a repeat of what happened with the Covid vaccines.
But now’s not the time to ask why.
The reality is that millions of people in South Africa are already hungry — and it’s about to get a lot worse.
This is where the Constitution should kick in.
Fortunately, in South Africa everyone has a right to “sufficient food and water”. All children have an immediately realisable right to “basic nutrition”.
Given the evidence that we have of hunger from reports such as NIDS-CRAM, and given what the Constitution demands, those who produce and control food supplies — government, agriculture and big business — need to act NOW before it’s too late.
Below are some of the measures Maverick Citizen thinks should be introduced:
- Government, with the Consumer Goods Council of SA (made up of all the major food retailers), the Competition Commission and expert nutritionists should define the contents of a shopping basket of essential foodstuffs that are needed to meet nutritional needs — and immediately place a moratorium on price rises on these goods.
- Government should immediately introduce a basic income grant set at the Stats SA Food Poverty Line, as was recommended by the Department of Social Development’s own expert panel in a report it published in December 2021.
- Local governments should actively encourage and assist people to grow food at home and on pavements and in communal food gardens. It makes absolutely no sense for the Johannesburg city council to be bulldozing places like the Johannesburg inner city farm at a time like this.
- A plan is needed to reduce the almost 30% of food produced in SA that goes to waste, and to partner with civil society organisations like SA Harvest that know the food system best.
- Both government and agriculture need to heed experts in academia who have ideas about medium and long term strategies that are needed to mitigate the food crisis and the impact the climate crisis is going to have on food systems (see here and here).
- The Department of Health needs to initiate a campaign employing community health workers to carry out a national survey of levels of malnutrition and severe acute malnutrition in children. Read Dr Tim De Maayer’s article on what happens to the body of a malnourished child, if you need persuading why this is necessary.
- Sustainable and secure food production needs regional cooperation. This means working better with the Southern African Development Community on regional food security — although we fear that, given the corruption and capture of states that characterises our region, this may not go far.
If we want to save lives, none of the above suggestions should be controversial. That is why they need to be implemented now.
The demands of the Constitution, not the National Treasury, should dictate government’s response.
The life and cost benefits will outweigh the investment needed many times over.
Preventing hunger and ensuring dignity should unite us all across class, race and political lines.
By acting now, and by acting together, South Africa could steal a lead and show the world how to respond fairly and equitably to the looming hunger catastrophe.
The consequences of delaying — or of doing nothing — are too ghastly to contemplate. DM/MC
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