Climate change, poverty and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are some of the factors leading to increased reports of childhood malnutrition and starvation in the Eastern Cape.
These were some of the submissions made at the South African Human Rights Commission's (SAHRC) inquiry into child malnutrition in the province.
The commission said it set up the inquiry after receiving increasing reports of children in the province dying from starvation and malnutrition.
Advocate Paul Hoffman said access to food was a fundamental right that was enshrined in the Constitution.
"We all know that basic nutrition for children under 18 is an absolute right that has been available to all children since 1994, " he said.
Hoffman said the inquiry was limited to children because they were the ones who suffered most from the effects of malnutrition. He said malnutrition stunted children mentally and physically.
"Those who grow up malnourished will not grow up to be professors or captains of rugby teams," he added.
He said South Africa had enough food, but the government needed to come up with innovative measures to ensure that it reached poor children.
Professor Charles Shelton Mutengwa of the department of agronomy at the University of Fort Hare said in 2020, 9.3-million South Africans were affected by acute food security. The Eastern Cape accounted for 893 299 of people experiencing food insecurity.
"Food insecurity is widespread, as we speak, and this is due to global environmental, economic and socio-political issues, and this also includes the impact of the recent Covid-19 pandemic. Climate change is an added constraint, and it is further undermining food security," said Mutengwa.
He said the rural parts of KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape were more vulnerable to climate change. These provinces, he said, were more vulnerable because they depended a lot on agriculture.
Mutengwa said children affected by malnutrition needed specialised care.
"Severely malnourished children need to be fed and rehydrated with great care. They need special care in the hospital. They cannot be given a normal diet until they have recovered," he said.
He said a short-term solution for malnutrition was the establishment of community gardens.
"The advantage of this is that unemployed youth can have something to do. Gardening initiatives can be strengthened by training with involved stakeholders," Mugengwa added.
He said unemployed youth in the Raymond Mhlaba Municipality in the Eastern Cape were trained to work as food security facilitators that helped to set up home gardens. This method, he said, could be used in other areas as well.
Mutengwa said long-term solutions to deal with childhood malnutrition would include an improved healthcare system.
"A good healthcare system will provide immunisation, oral rehydration, periodic deworming, early diagnosis, and proper treatment of common illnesses [which] can greatly help in preventing malnutrition," he said.
He said income-generating programmes targeting women could also be implemented. "Studies have shown that the adoption of gender-sensitive strategies are effective," he added.
Mutengwa also said innovative farming methods needed to be developed.