Close this search box.

Food security


The availability of food is the starting point of all life. The main issue around food is whether people can afford it, a nutritious adequate diet that makes for healthy human beings.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines food security as “A situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

Food insecurity is strongly related to unemployment and poverty. The two are justifiably linked as the first two goals of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): “No poverty” and “No hunger”.


Food sovereignty” serves as an alternative paradigm to the current global “food security” narrative. “Food security” says nothing about where food comes from, or how and under what conditions it is produced and consumed. Food security offers little in the way of alleviating hunger, and even less for the contradictions of hunger and malnourishment in the global agri-food system.

Source: Busiso Moyo, South Africa’s new food and nutrition policy fails to address constitutional right to food (adapted).

With a child dying every six seconds because of undernourishment-related problems, hunger remains the world’s largest tragedy and scandal.

Source: former FAO Director-General, Jacques Diouf.

This is a new face of hunger. There is food on shelves but people are priced out of the market.

Josette Sheeran, said whilst head of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP)

Food security doesn’t begin and end on the shop shelf; it starts out in the farmlands and depends on farmers who can produce at a big enough profit to justify their risk and hard work. Once farming confidence goes and younger farmers lose interest and move elsewhere, no amount of social or political engineering will turn the boat around.

Source: Roelof Bezuidenhout, Eastern Cape farmer

We are told of the great advances that have been made in ‘modern’ agriculture in the last 60 years. Yet there are more hungry and malnourished people on our planet today than in the whole history of humanity. While agricultural policies are directed towards cash crops, the income that this generates for rural people rarely covers their food needs.


The world produces more than enough calories to feed everyone, and other important issues are at stake. Social inequity, inequality, inefficiency, waste, environmental degradation and biased global economic policies are but a few. Moreover, feeding the world is not just about ensuring that there are enough calories; the quality and variety of food are equally important. It is time to start looking at food and nutrition from a different perspective: the focus should shift from food security to food sovereignty and nutrition security.

Source: Farming Matters, (adapted)

International business environment

Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of him and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care”, and the second of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is “End hunger”. How do we improve the current global food system which fails the estimated 800 million people globally who experience food insecurity?

  • The African Union (AU)/NEPAD Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Plan (CAADP) sets out Africa’s plan of action to attain food security. See and
  • AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution)
  • Agriculture Market Information System an inter-agency platform to enhance food market transparency and policy response for food security launched in 2011 by the G20 Ministers of Agriculture 
  • Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)
  • Find the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) Foundation Food Sustainabiity Index at
  • Bread for the World
  • The Centre for Global Development (CGD) has looked at how trade affects food security in developing countries. Visit
  • Champions 12.3 The 12th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is Responsible Consumption and Production. Bullet point 3 calls for halving food waste and reducing food losses worldwide by 2030.
  • Comite Permanent Inter Stat de Lutte Contre la Secheresse au Sahel (Permanent Inter-State Committee on Drought Control in the Sahel – CILSS) –
  • The UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) pages are at The CFS is “the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all”. It is advised by the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE).
  • Development Assistance Committee (DAC) is a group of 24 countries that have come together to help fight the world hunger crisis. See
  • EAT-Lancet Commission
  • The Global Food Security Index (GFSI), developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and sponsored by DuPont, considers the three core pillars of food security-Affordability, Availability, and Quality & Safety-across 109 countries. See
  • The Environmental Working Group (EWG) includes food and farming in its research. See
  • Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET) – – provides world overviews.
  • Find the relevant themes relevant themes to do with food security at, website of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). The annual State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, the Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) and Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES), and the monthly Food Price Index are among the FAO’s offerings.
  • Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) –
  • The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP)
  • Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)
  • The Institute for Food & Development Policy (Food First) –
  • International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) – – responds to food crises as well as to other disasters.
  • International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IAMA) – – “Your Global Food System Network”
  • International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) –
  • Landesa Rural Development Institute –
  • One Acre Fund –
  • The mission of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is “to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world”. Visit
  • Oxfam GB is a development, relief, and campaigning organisation that works with others “to end extreme poverty”. Find its State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) reports. An Oxfam electronic newsletter is available. See
  • ReliefWeb – – is the global hub for time-critical humanitarian information. Updated reports on Food Security issues are included.
  • Right to Food – – website relating to Jean Ziegler, a previous UN Special Rapporteur.
  • The Rockefeller Foundation. Find the “Food” option on its website,
  • Scaling Up Nutrition
  • Sight and Life
  • Solidaridad An international civil society organisation “transforming economies to make them more inclusive and sustainable”
  • Southern African Regional Poverty Network (SARPN) –
  • There are regular features on food security (and food prices) at, website of the World Bank.
  • World Farmers’ Organisation –
  • The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) –, the “world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger”


Each day, between 800 – 900 million people go hungry. In a world where there was not enough to go around, perhaps this could be understood. But the fact is that we already produce enough food to ensure everybody could have enough to eat. And then we essentially throw one-third of it away. Food waste and loss reaches an astonishing 1.3 billion tonnes per year.


Further reference:

Local business environment

Unfortunately, despite the [agricultural] sector’s successful contribution to food security through the availability of food, overall growth of the economy remains low and the stark reality is that approximately half of the South African population cannot afford a basic healthy diet. Bureau for Food & Agricultural Policy, 2021.

Food security is not easy to quantify and figures differ. Statistics South Africa (Stats SA)’s General Household Survey (GHS) is one source. The annual Global Food Security Index, released by The Economist and Corteva, is another. South Africa regressed from 44 (out of 113), to 70th in the food secure rankings in 2021. See

For South Africa to be food secure, food needs to be available both nationally and locally, and people have to have the means to access it – buying it, producing it or even bartering for it. Knowledge on nutrition also needs to be on-hand so that people can make informed choices about what they eat.

Further reference:

  • Find the national monthly Household Affordability Index by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group at
  • Find the Quarterly Food Price Monitor at
  • The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) compiles a monthly Food Inflation Brief. Find these at
  • Statistics South Africa (Stats SA)’s most recent General Household Survey (GHS) can be read at


Hidden hunger

Across the world two billion people live with hidden hunger. In South Africa, 24% of children under the age of 5 show signs of stunting, a sure indicator of hidden hunger.  Hidden hunger in children means:

  • They eat enough calories to sustain life, but they don’t get enough of the crucial vitamins and minerals essential for optimal physical and mental health.
  • Hidden hunger causes some 1.1 million of the 3.1 million child deaths each year.
  • Ultimately they will fail at school, will never achieve their income potential, and will remain forever trapped in the poverty cycle.
Source: Bright4Africa. Visit and

Further reference:


Food waste in South Africa

Food waste is reputed to cost the South African economy more than R61 billion annually. This is some 2.1% of the country’s GDP (CSIR, 2017).

Further reference:




South Africa’s agro-food system is generally fairly globally competitive (net exporter of food, earning very valuable foreign exchange), despite low levels of support, as measured by the Price Support Equivalency (PSE) measure of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). We need to assess the environment we face correctly, in other words diagnose our ills and strengths properly, or we will be implementing incorrect measures.


We should … focus on enhancing our competitiveness through infrastructure support, research and development, training and skills development, proper extension, access to development finance, safety and security, labour reform and, above all, market development that create far greater access across the spectrum of enterprises in the agro-food system. If we get these right, we will create more globally competitive value chains that will create huge opportunity for new entrants to access, participate profitably and sustainably in, and provide affordable food to South Africa.


Source: Dr John Purchase, Agbiz

National strategy and government contact

The national policy framework includes the Constitution (sections 27, 28 and 35) and the National Development Plan which identifies food security and nutrition as a consequence of poverty and inequality as well as a cause.

One of the objectives of the National Food and Nutrition Security Plan (NFNSP) 2018-2023 was to establish a multi-sectoral Food and Nutrition Security Council to oversee alignment of policies, legislation and programmes, and co-ordinate and implement programmes and services which addressed Food and Nutrition Security. Read about it at and

South Africa’s proposed food losses and waste strategy is a comprehensive plan which is one of the key interventions of the National Waste Management Strategy. Find the blog “South Africa’s draft strategy to combat food losses and waste proposes interventions such as prevention, education, partnerships, regulation and monitoring” (October 2023) at

Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD)

The successful production of food cuts across other government department areas too. Some examples follow:

  • The Department of Science and Innovation-National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Food Security The CoE is co-hosted by the University of the Western Cape and the University of Pretoria.
  • Department of Basic Education The Department of Basic Education runs the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP).
  • Department of Social Development This is the department in charge of social grants through the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA). Almost 17 million people are reached through social grants. Contact SASSA at 012 400 2000 or visit Details of district offices are available on the website.
  • Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic) The dtic is involved in several aspects of food security e.g. co-operatives, agro-processing, import and export.
  • The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) DPWI runs the Expanded Public Works Programme through which household food security is boosted.
  • Competition Commission Theoretically, competition keeps prices down (because the client can go elsewhere if she or he does not like your prices). Price fixing between players in the food industry is bad news for food security.

Role players

Further reference:

  • Agricultural Colleges working with the Provincial Departments of Agriculture offer basic training courses in food security. Find their details on the “Agricultural education and training” page.
  • Agricultural Research Council (ARC)  The need for “sufficient, safe and nutritious food” permeates the strategic imperatives of government and therefore the goals of the ARC. Its core activities are all related to food security in some way. See

If the way to get food is to buy it, problems result when the country has a constant unemployment rate of just over 25%. For this reason, any effort to empower food gardens at home are encouraged. Visit websites of role players like and

Websites and publications

The websites mentioned earlier on this page.

  • Find the latest Global Network against Food Crises reports at
  • Find out about the Global Food Security journal at
  • Okole, B., Gordon, G., Brown, B., Pillay, B., Schoeman, C. and Godfrey, L. 2022. Improved food security in South Africa through a more circular agricultural sector. CSIR Report Number: CSIR/AAFH/AGRPR/IR/2022/0001/A. CSIR: Pretoria.
  • Oribi Village, the Southern Africa Food Labs, and the Wakanda Food Incubator have joined forces in the #BridgingTheGaps challenge, to proactively address and reshape how we produce, distribute, process, and consume food. Visit for more information on the challenge.
  • International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). 2021. Global Food Policy Report 2021. Available at
  • Gassner A, Harris D, Mausch K, Terheggen A, Lopes C, Finlayson RF, Dobie P. 2019. Poverty eradication and food security through agriculture in Africa: Rethinking objectives and entry points. Outlook on Agriculture 21 Nov 2019.
  • Wise TA. 2019. Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food. New York: New Press.
  • “A third of all food in South Africa is not consumed, but wasted, while millions of South Africans go to bed hungry every night. Find the report “Food loss and waste: facts and futures” compiled by WWF SA at
  • Hall K., Richter L., Mokomane Z. & Lake L. (eds). 2018. South African Child Gauge 2018. Cape Town: Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town. Available at
  • Neves, M.F. 2017. Future of The Food Business: The FACTS The IMPACTS The ACTS. 2nd Edition. New Jersey: World Scientific. Visit
  • Maziya, M., Mudhara, M. & Chitja, J. 2017. What factors determine household food security among smallholder farmers?: insights from Msinga, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Available at
  • Find the UFS Ideas for community food gardening projects resource at
  • Find the comprehensive guide on how to start a straw bale garden in 30 days. It is over 10,000 words and includes many practical tips and advice. It can be read at
  • Find the Chip Glennon guide to starting a garden at
  • At, under “Resource Centre” and “Info pak”, find many publications like “Vegetables – Create a peace garden” and “Vegetables – Plan and prepare your garden”.
  • Watch the South African Food Lab presentation The Future of Food: 2015-2030 in EnglishisiXhosa and Afrikaans on Youtube. See also Profiling Smallholder Farmers in South Africa – A Toolkit developed by the SAFL and NAMC.
  • Find the latest Agricultural Outlook, done by the FAO and OECD, at
  • The annual BFAP Baselines include a look at food availability and affordability. Find the document at
  • Hear the TED talks on Youtube about food waste. These include “A recipe for cutting food waste” by Peter Lehner and “A war on food waste” by Patrizia La Trecchia.
  • The latest State of Food Insecurity in the World (download it at looks at countries, regions and at the world as a whole.
  • Carolan, MS. 2013. Reclaiming Food Security. London: Routledge. Several other publications are available under Routledge’s “Earthscan” series e.g. Competition and Efficiency in International Food Supply Chains and Food Systems Failure.
  • Hauter, W. 2012. Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America. New York: The New Press.
  • A book Surviving the global food jungle – Realities, options and strategies for South Africa was published in 2012 in collaboration with the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz). In it, Prof Marcos Fava Neves explores the global business of food and agriculture in relation to food value chains.
  • Department of Basic Education. 2011. Horticulture Manual for Schools: A guide to establish and sustain food gardens. The publication was authored by staff at ARC-VOP.
  • Find the reports and publications at


Some articles

World overviews of food insecurity are given by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET) – visit See also the the latest annual Global Food Security Index at

Table of Contents