Andy du Plessis, Managing Director FoodForward SA
For several years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, South Africa had already been in a food security crisis, with an estimated 14 million people experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity. When the national state of disaster came into effect at midnight on 26 March 2020, South Africa was thrust into Level 5 lockdown, with most of our economic activity grinding to a halt. This occurrence precipitated an unprecedented loss of income for millions of people, who became vulnerable overnight. The pandemic violently exposed the fractures in our fragile society, spiralling our country into deeper inequality and poverty.
FoodForward SA, foreseeing the horrid implications from a food security perspective, immediately applied for and received permits to be able to continue operations during lockdown. Within months, the organisation had scaled up to provide food support to vulnerable communities across all nine provinces.
The pandemic’s impact on household food insecurity was devastating, as families ran out of money to buy food. The National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) Wave 5 Report, released in July 2021, estimated that around 28 million people across South Africa experienced moderate to severe food insecurity. “These results indicate that there is a new and higher equilibrium level of hunger and food insecurity in South Africa because of the coronavirus pandemic, and that the amelioration of child hunger should be a source of public concern,” the report noted.
Within months, FoodForward SA doubled its operational, fleet and staff capacity. Prior to the pandemic, FoodForward SA supported 675 registered Beneficiary Organisations (BOs) reaching 255,000 vulnerable people across five provinces. By the end of the 2021/2022 financial year, our reach and impact increased to 2,225 BOs reaching 875,000 vulnerable people across all nine provinces, with a cost per meal of just R0,68. Our greatest growth spurt took place during the pandemic, and within the context of the July 2021 riots, which also temporarily affected our operations in KZN. Our growth strategy would not have been successful without the remarkable support from various philanthropic organisations.
For several NPOs providing services in under-served communities, navigating through the turbulence
of a pandemic with limited resources, while the demand for social support increased, was extremely challenging. Unfortunately, several NPOs had to close their doors, while others had to significantly reduce their staff and downscale their programmes in order to survive.
The daily interventions of the NPO sector in under- served communities cannot be over-estimated while, sadly, the value of their collective contributions is all too often under-estimated. In the glaringly obvious absence of government support to the NPO sector, the role that philanthropic organisations can play in support of the NPO sector is not only vital, it’s the glue that underpins the sector’s existence.
Although food security at the household level is dire, many philanthropic organisations are of the view that funding food security as a pillar is not an effective means of allocating their spend. This could not be further from the truth for several reasons. Many NPOs that provide psycho-social and legal services, education, skills development, and healthcare programmes, to name a few, also need to ensure that their clients receive a meal or a food parcel, in order for their interventions to be effective.
Reducing inequality, poverty, unemployment etc. in under-served communities will take decades to reverse, and requires strong economic growth, jobs for all, and better government-funded programmes. In the meantime, South Africa has the highest rate of malnutrition in the world. In order to stave off starvation, malnutrition and unimaginable hardship, philanthropic organisations must prioritise food security as an intervention pillar.
Since NPOs are already working in local communities, when natural and human-induced disasters occur, NPOs can respond swiftly with relief efforts, but not without the philanthropic organisations enabling this remedial work. This partnership is crucial to rebuilding and co-creation.
Philanthropic organisations that support the work of NPOs that focus on food security should consider entering into multi-year agreements. These agreements ensure NPOs have some security, allowing them to plan for more than a year in advance, thereby making them more resilient.
Philanthropic organisations that focus their CSI funding on programmes relating to maths, science and technology in poor communities should also consider how supporting food security can enhance these interventions. Teaching and learning become more effective when children are fed during these programmes and at home.
With so many challenges plaguing poor communities – inequality, poverty, unemployment, gender-based violence, gangsterism, drugs, crime, malnutrition etc. – the support provided by philanthropic organisations, in terms of food security, prevents an escalation of further violent riots, political instability and community dissatisfaction.
As we begin to emerge from the very restrictive Covid-19 regulations and sharpen our focus towards clawing back some of the losses and devastation incurred from the pandemic, there is a renewed optimism across South Africa. While this optimism is being threatened by the frustrations of regular bouts of load shedding, low economic growth, and unacceptably high unemployment and crime statistics, we are a resilient nation. We have been through so much as a country, we have survived and thrived in many respects. This has prepared us very well for the challenges that lie ahead.
Originally published in our 2021 Annual Report
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