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Food security’s fragile framework

The violence and looting that paralysed parts of South Africa last week showed the vulnerability of our food supply chain and reminded us that we cannot take food security for granted.

In a 2017 survey of food security, StatsSA said South Africa was food secure at a national level, but not at household level. Nearly 7 million South Africans in 1.7 million households experienced hunger.

Food security rests on three legs – availability, access and affordability. In just a few days, the violence swept away all three, endangering food security sometimes far from the affected areas.

Food availability stopped when container ports and key arterial roads were closed, warehouses and distribution hubs were ransacked and burned, and delivery trucks were destroyed.

For many communities and households, access to food went up in smoke when malls, local shopping centres and spaza shops were looted and burned to the ground.

Affordability of food was immediately – if temporarily – at risk, particularly in poorer areas. when prices shot up because of supply shortages. There were long queues for bread in some places. Hundreds of jobs have been lost, depriving families of income and sustenance.

The damage to the food supply chain runs into billions. Some parts will be repaired quickly, others will take many months to return to normal. Township economies may have been set back by 15 years.

It has been a very expensive lesson in how quickly food security can break down.

Image: President Ramaphosa and members of government address the media on 16 July.