A group of activists fighting for food access and affordability gathered on Thursday to discuss the effects of the worsening food crisis on children, amid severe acute malnutrition and hunger.
The activists hail from the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Grow Great Zero-Stunting Campaign, DG Murray Trust, Congress of the South African Trade Unions, the South African Council of Churches, civil society groups and include academics.
The group is advocating for highly nutritious foods to be made affordable to poorer households, complementing its proposal for a government subsidy.
“Data from the Department of Health shows that there were over 15 000 cases of severe acute malnutrition requiring hospitalisation in the 2022/23 financial year. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Malnutrition is the underlying cause of about one-third of all child deaths in South Africa today, this despite Section 28 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to nutrition of every child,” said Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund CEO Dr Linda Ncube Nkomo.
The group of activists decried the high levels of food insecurity citing this as a catalyst for malnutrition and stunted physical and mental development.
Grow Great Zero Stunting campaign CEO Dr Edzani Mphaphuli expressed caution over the negative effects of food insecurity on the learning outcomes of children and in the development of the economy.
“If we don’t stop stunting now we shouldn’t expect learning outcomes to improve or our economy to grow,” she warned.
In considering the high cost of infant formula, the group has also advised the food formula industry against extracting massive profits from the poorest of mothers, for whom malnutrition often makes breastfeeding difficult.
“We are heartened that Nedlac (National Economic Development and Labour Council) has tasked a multi-sectoral committee to review the viability of the proposal to double-discount ten best buy foods. No sector of society – not government, not labour, not civil society nor industry – should be able to say that substantive proposals to feed South Africa’s children are too difficult, without putting a better option on the table,” said DG Murray Trust CEO Dr David Harrison.