Food security

Children are dying of hunger

The extent of child malnutrition and starvation in South Africa was highlighted in the mass-selling Sunday Times, starting with a front-page lead story supported by additional articles inside the newspaper.

The situation is particularly dire in KwaZulu-Natal, where the recent floods have worsened poverty and malnutrition which was already rising because of Covid lockdowns, joblessness and rising food prices.

In a country which is a net food exporter, children are being fed on watery porridge or only water, or they are eating sand to fill empty bellies, the newspaper reported.

At least 199 children under the age of five died of malnutrition in the first two months of this year, according to official statistics. And that was before the April flood devastation.

Malnutrition, particularly among children, is one of the reasons FairPlay has advocated removing VAT from some chicken portions. Malnutrition in the first two years of life is a cause of child stunting, which affects children physically and often mentally for the rest of their lives.

South Africa’s child stunting rate is disproportionately high – it was last measured at 27%, which means more than a quarter of children under five are stunted.

The #VATfreeChicken campaign has highlighted research by the South African Child Gauge as well as the National Development Plan, showing the importance of proper nutrition for a child’s first 1000 days – from conception to two years of age.

In its 2020 edition, the organisation referred to the “slow violence of malnutrition”, referring to “the concept of slow violence to illustrate how food and nutrition insecurity during childhood is a silent threat to human development”.

The Sunday Times coverage shows that the need is, if anything, more desperate now. It also demonstrates the urgency of measures to restrain price increases, particularly of chicken which is the cheapest and most popular meat protein.

Efforts by meat importers to get import tariffs scrapped are never going to work, as they would affect only a tiny portion of chicken sales while threatening thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of local jobs.

What will work, and can be implemented easily and speedily, is for government to remove the 15% VAT from the chicken portions most consumed by lower income households. This applies particularly to the popular 2kg packs of individually quick frozen (IQF) mixed chicken portions.

VAT-free chicken is more important and urgent than ever.

In April, we proposed a five-point plan to help improve food security in South Africa.

Read more about this plan.
In 2020, we convened panel of experts to discuss child stunting in South Africa. 

Watch a recording of this webinar.