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A study on current and future realities for urban food security in South Africa
Suppose I told you that New York City had the opportunity to create thousands of new jobs – but we just weren’t doing it. You’d probably be pretty upset. Now suppose I went on to say that we’ve actually had that opportunity for years, we just weren’t paying close enough attention. I bet you’d all have some choice words for me – the kind that shouldn’t be repeated in polite company. Alright, now suppose I told you that by taking steps to create those jobs, we could also improve public health and reduce our energy consumption. We could fight childhood obesity and asthma. We could keep millions of dollars in the local economy, instead of sending those dollars across the country or around the world. But we still weren’t doing it. Well the fact is, we have been ignoring those exact opportunities. For years, we’ve been missing a chance to create a greener, healthier, and more economically vibrant city. How? By ignoring the enormous potential of our city’s food system.’ (Quinn 2009) There are currently high levels of food insecurity in South African cities. The SANHANES survey found national prevalence of households at risk of hunger to be 28% and those experiencing hunger at 26%. The equivalent figures in urban informal areas were 32% and 36% respectively. The figures are reinforced by case studies which consistently show high levels of food insecurity. With regard to trends: nationally food insecurity was in decline, but it appears to have plateaued. Ever increasing food prices and other price shocks suggest that levels of urban food insecurity are unlikely to improve. Urban food insecurity is characterised by low dietary diversity, high malnutrition and obesity, and distinct hunger seasons. This is caused by both household and extra-household scale factors including: Household income, income stability, household structure, and household asset base. The extra-household scale factors include geographic access to a range of sources of food, access to transport and stability of food prices. Households themselves engage in strategies to mitigate food insecurity, which may increase household vulnerability to food insecurity in the longer term. These include consumption smoothing and accessing credit. The brief for the study requested a particular focus on urban agriculture as this is the most common programmatic response by municipalities to food insecurity. However, in reviewing national large-scale surveys and smaller case studies, very little evidence was found to support the assertion that urban agriculture is an effective means of addressing food insecurity for the most vulnerable households. Uptake of urban food production varies widely across the country, but is generally low. There is an extremely weak evidence base on what is being produced, by whom and how production impacts food security. Without such data the dominance of urban agriculture as the programmatic response cannot be justified.