Food security crisis for South Africa

 ·25 May 2024

Although considerably lower than over two decades ago, a large percentage of the South African population continues to struggle with food insecurity – and the numbers have been rising every year since 2019.

In 2023, an estimated 15% of the country’s population (~9.34 million) experience hunger, while over one-quarter of households experience worryingly complex access to food.

This was outlined in the recent General Household Survey by StatsSA, which looks at various aspects of South African household living conditions, including access to basic services, education, health, employment, income, and food, among others.

Access to food

The survey seeks to gauge how many people in the country go hungry due to insufficient food.

The data reveals a pattern of fluctuating food security. In 2002, the percentage of individuals experiencing hunger was reported at 29.3%. By 2019, this rate had significantly decreased to 11.1%, indicating an improvement.

Nevertheless, subsequent years have shown a reversal in this trend, with the hunger rate increasing to 15% by 2023.

The survey also delved into the intricate web of food access through the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS).

“These questions aim to measure households’ food access by asking households about modifications they made in their diet or eating patterns during the previous month because of limited sources available where they could obtain food,” said StatsSA.

“The index provides a slightly more sensitive measure of food access than the question on hunger,” it added.

In 2010, 23.6% of households faced restricted access. This dipped to 17.8% in 2019, before surging to 23.1% in 2023.

Simultaneously, the plight of individuals grappling with limited food access mirrored this trajectory. From 25.2% in 2011, the proportion dwindled to 19.5% in 2019 before ominously climbing to 26.2% in 2023.

Source: StatsSA 2023 General Household Survey

Looking at a breakdown of these figures, 23.1% of households, nationally, considered their access to food as inadequate or severely inadequate.

Food access problems were most common in Northern Cape (37.7%), North West (32.6%), and Mpumalanga (30%).

Conversely, 6.9% of households in Limpopo reported inadequate or severely inadequate access to food, the lowest proportion out of any province.

Source: StatsSA 2023 General Household Survey

The country’s metropolitans recorded a national average of 20% of households with inadequate food access.

The proportions of households which reported inadequate access to food in the different metros are:

  • Mangaung – 25.9%;
  • Johannesburg – 24.7%;
  • Buffalo City – 21.2%;
  • Nelson Mandela Bay – 21%;
  • Cape Town – 19.4%;
  • eThekwini – 19.4%;
  • Ekurhuleni – 17.1%;
  • Tshwane – 14.1%.

Read: The crisis eating up middle-class budgets in South Africa

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