While COVID-19 food relief parcels have been a godsend for those rural communities threatened with acute food insecurities, they have always been a short-term solution.
Throughout the current pandemic, the challenge for policymakers around the globe has been to find a balance on the tightrope stretched between public health on the one side and economic realities on the other.
The situation in South Africa has been no different. Here, lockdown policies have been rigorous and it has been within the low-income communities where the knock-on effect of lost earnings has been most evident: chronic food shortages have escalated, necessitating urgent intervention.
The South African restrictions put in place in late March essentially closed the doors on critical rural community support structures.
• Daily school meals
The closure of schools, pre-schools and crèches has had consequences over and above the loss of education: these institutions usually provide a daily hot meal – a contribution that is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of the children, many of whom are from families with long-standing food challenges that precede the current lockdown.
• Loss of income
The rural communities supported by Africa Foundation and &Beyond are largely dependent on the tourism industry for their income. With the extended halt on all tourism-related activities, so too was there a devastating loss of earnings.
In direct response to the escalating food crisis within South Africa’s rural communities in Mpumalanga, Africa Foundation consulted with the traditional authorities to determine those households in most need of food support.
The factors taken into consideration included how many people were living in each household, whether any household members could access government pensions or grants, whether any were earning an income, and individuals without an official South African identity document (which automatically precludes them for any government support).
While food parcels are a short-term response to an immediate need, ultimately our communities need to be assisted in a more sustainable and empowering way. It was with this in mind that the idea of adding vegetable seeds into these food parcels took shape.
Seeds – including beetroot, carrot, onion, green pepper, chili, pumpkin and spinach – together with documentation on how to plant correctly, watering tips and other gardening guidelines are included with our food parcels.
The first distribution of seeds took place on 25th August, with nearly 350 households from communities in rural Mpumalanga receiving a batch. Plans are to continue this distribution in both Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal in coming months.
Moving forward, communities now have the ability to grow their own vegetable gardens as a practical and sustainable solution to both acute and persistent food insecurities.
These seeds are an important food source and more – they represent an important forward step in building community resilience which is our ultimate goal.