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How food governance processes could include marginalised communities - an extract of the results of an SLE study applying digital and participatory methods.
COVID-19 is aggravating the hunger crisis and creating new epicentres of hunger across the globe. In July 2020, the development and aid organization Oxfam named South Africa a “hunger hotspot”, as efforts to contain the spread of the virus were impacting food security and hunger. Other relevant organisations such as FAO, IPES Food and FIAN have also warned that hunger was being exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic since its early days. Though food secure on a national level, South Africa struggles with hunger, especially in communities that were historically marginalised. This article sheds light on key findings drawn from a study conducted within the SLE postgraduate program on the impacts of COVID-19 measures on food security in South Africa’s marginalised communities. It assesses the relevance for communities to influence food governance processes and how these processes can develop. This study was part of a project mandated by members of two South African communities, namely the fisherwomen collective Weskusmandjie from St. Helena Bay and the Urban Farmer Research Club of Cape Town, a group of urban farmers who cultivate in food gardens in the townships of Cape Town.
The High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) situates food security in a context in which “all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (HLPE, 2020). First, a food system needs to be productive and prosperous to ensure the availability of sufficient food. It needs to be equitable and inclusive to provide access to food for all people. It produces healthy and nutritious food to ensure nutrient uptake and utilisation and is resilient so as to foster stability in the face of shocks and crises. Moreover, it is empowering to ensure agency of all people and groups to actively shape the food system by taking and implementing joint decisions. Lastly, it needs to be regenerative to ensure sustainability in all its dimensions.
The study aim was to analyse food security issues. A methodology was designed and adapted in a digital manner due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions, which did not allow the SLE postgraduates to travel. The team therefore relied on local co-researchers who framed the project, organised the data collection and supported the team in the contextualisation of the results. Building on the existing SLE long term-partnerships and co-researchers living on site was of utmost importance to achieve the following study aims:
To meet these aims, the team designed a household survey, conducted key-informant interviews, organised food mapping and facilitated digital team meetings. With a sample size of 1,474 households in the Cape Flats, which is the township area of Cape Town, the survey is statistically representative with a confidence level of 95%. St. Helena Bay has a sample size of 350 households and also representative with a confidence level of 95%.
The food security status was measured using the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) developed by the FAO. The results revealed that between September and November 2020, 34.1% of the households were food secure, 11.9% were mildly food insecure, while 23.4% were moderately food insecure, and 30.6% of households were severely food insecure (Figure). Gugulethu has the highest prevalence of severely food insecure households (45%), closely followed by St. Helena Bay and Khayelitsha and (42% and 36%). The most food secure wards are in Mfuleni (58%) and Mitchell’s Plain (65%). Considering moderately and severely food insecure estimates together, St. Helena Bay has the highest food insecure households overall (90%).
The survey findings also showed that households experiencing food insecurity during the pandemic share several common characteristics. For example, food insecurity is more often connected to large household (with five or more members) and to those households headed by women. A striking result was that respondents engaged in the food sector, regardless of their roles (producers or sellers) and of formal status, are significantly more food insecure than those participants not engaged in the food sector at all. However, respondents that are unemployed are significantly more food insecure and are also more likely to be recipients of food relief. Over 50% of survey participants are unemployed, while only 17% of them have received food relief from the government or civil society organisations during the first months of lockdown (March-June 2020). To cope with the loss of income during COVID-19 restrictions, the closed informal food sector and the strict curfew, the study revealed that households had to rely on donations from family/neighbours, borrow food and reduce the number of meals consumed.
In discussing, understanding and contextualising these results, the community members advocated in the research and triangulation process for increasing their active participation in food governance processes held through food policy councils. The South African government has developed a National Food and Nutrition Security Plan (2017-2022) which includes the establishment of a multi-sectional and multi-stakeholder Food and Nutrition Council at a national level, cascading to provincial and district levels. The Food Policy Councils will oversee, coordinate and implement programmes and services that address food and nutrition security on community level. Our results claim that a critical transformation of food systems is required in such a way that marginalised communities are enabled to advocate for active participation of marginalised communities in their food systems and the design of rules constraining them. Or in other words, obtaining agency within their food systems.
The advocacy for such food councils links back to the right to food, as the right of every individual, alone or in community with others, to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, adequate and culturally acceptable food that is produced and consumed sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations. The implementation of these councils would be a powerful response for marginalised communities that lack support from policy by enabling their approach to government officials responsible for the implementation of food and nutrition security policy. In a research area like the Western Cape, and particularly in Cape Town, dialogues on food and multi-actor workshops are a place to be for the many actors engaging in the food system. At the same time, producers and fisher folk communities increasingly voice their absence in these dialogues, therefore, talks are held about them but not with them.
The COVID-19 pandemic uncovered on the one hand the fragility of food security and on the other hand the need for local and specific food solutions and civic engagement. To deal with those challenges, the development of a collaborative governance structure is crucial and requires basic infrastructure such as a meeting space, means for communication and transport, coordination, communication and trust. For citizens to become agents of change, in our context an organised and mutually agreed upon process of change, building on co-created knowledge about the own local food system and its drivers, support systems and fault lines is highly needed. A community-driven and capacity development-oriented process, accompanied by invited research, activists, and civil society movements – may foster food system innovations at local scale. The potential lies in strengthening the community’s engagement power and informed capacity to challenge government interventions. A necessary prerequisite seems to be creation of a space for community engagement in food systems and, consequently, in the development of community-driven solutions to food insecurity.