Despite reports of extreme poverty and residents going to bed without food, South Africans tossed away 10.3 million tonnes of food in 2021. This is according to the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile (NIDS-CRAM) report, which reveals the prevalence of food insecurity has increased since May 2020 and continues to climb as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak and the disturbance in July of that year.
“The first wave of the NIDS-CRAM survey, collected in May and June 2020, provided strong evidence of drastic increases in household and child hunger during the initial period of the coronavirus pandemic. The second wave of NIDS-CRAM showed improvement in all three measures of food insecurity measured in the survey, although both adult and child hunger and running out of money for food remained disturbingly high,” the report states.
“Waves 3 to 5, surveyed in November/December 2020, February/ March 2021 and April/May 2021 respectively, showed a significant reduction in households running out of money for food since the first wave of data, but we have not seen any substantial further reduction in hunger levels. Overall, the results indicate that the situation in wave 5 is similar to July/ August 2020.”
Multiple questions about child and household hunger, as well as household food insecurity, were asked in all five waves of the NIDS-CRAM study (running out of money to buy food). Because all waves asked the identical questions, it’s feasible to see how reported hunger and food security changed between May/June 2020 and April/May 2021.
“Overall, the proportion of respondents who reported that their household had run out of money for food declined from 47% in wave 1 to 38% in wave 2. This measure increased and then remained consistent at 41% of respondents in wave 3, and 39% of respondents in wave 4. In wave 5, there was a significant reduction in this measure: 35% of respondents reported running out of money for food in the final month of 2021.”
“While this is encouraging, this does not seem to have translated into a reduction in household hunger, nor child hunger. In wave 1, household hunger was reported in 23% of respondents. This measure declined significantly in wave 2 to 16%, but has since fluctuated between 18% and 17% in waves 3, 4 and 5,” the report further says.
Additionally, child hunger has not decreased. Between waves 1 and 2, the proportion of respondents with children in their home who reported a kid going hungry at least once in the previous week, dropped significantly from 15% to 12%, before rising to 16% in wave 3 – a statistically significant rise and a worrisome finding. This metric fell dramatically to 14% in wave 4, but stayed stable at 14% in wave 5. Child hunger has returned to the levels seen during South Africa’s worst era of lockdown, prior to the implementation of new handouts and top-ups.
“To give perspective to these numbers, during April/May 2021, respondents in about 2.3 million households reported child hunger in the week before they were interviewed.
The effects of food insecurity
“The continuing reality regarding food insecurity for many households in South Africa is perhaps not quite as dire in comparison to the period during the hard lockdown, but it remains a bleak picture. While fewer households report running out of money to buy food, household and child hunger have not decreased, and furthermore, the severity of hunger in households remains worrying,” the report reads.
“The picture which emerges from these statistics indicates that while food security may have improved for some households, hunger has not been reduced. While some households have managed to recover from the initial devastating effects of the pandemic and hard lockdown, a large proportion of households remains economically extremely vulnerable, with the danger of longer term consequences such as child stunting that may affect not only children’s current situation but also their future development, human capital and labour market prospects.
“The results across waves show that reporting hunger in the household and running out of money for food do not mirror each other very closely.”
How women try to shield children from hunger
“Since the first wave of NIDS-CRAM, it has been noticeable that there are attempts to shield children from hunger, with adult hunger exceeding child hunger in households with children. The survey also consistently showed that food insecurity affects female respondents more than male respondents.”
The fact that female respondents report higher degrees of food insecurity than male respondents might be explained by other reasons, given what is known about the gendered impacts of poverty and food insecurity. First, female-headed families are more likely to have more adult females and dependents, as well as being poorer.
Second, female respondents are more likely to have less influence over the financial resources of the home. That is, wage earners often have greater choice over how money is spent than economically inactive or jobless family members, and males earn more than women.
“In May/June 2020, child hunger was far more likely in child support grant (CSG)-receiving food insecure households. While child hunger was not reduced in non-CSG-receiving food insecure households in July/August 2020, there is a marked reduction in child hunger in CSG-receiving households in that period. This corresponds to the period when these household would have received CSG top-ups and potentially also an SRD grant.
“From November/December 2020 to April/May 2021, child hunger in CSG-receiving food insecure households has risen steadily, and is now significantly higher in such households in comparison to the start of the study period.”