Food for thought on local markets
● By the time Babalo Mavuso cuts off the chicken’s head, plucks its feathers and dunks it in boiling water next to the taxi rank in Langa, she and her friend Amanda Tyeka have travelled two hours for their boss by taxi to and from a farm.
There, they would have loaded up 40 chickens — without a fridge waiting for them on the other end.
South Africa was recently ranked 44 out of 113 countries in the Global Food Security Index. But something doesn’t add up: Stats SA says “malnutrition remains a serious challenge in South Africa”, with one in four children stunted, and malnutrition high at around 20%.
The problem, says Professor Jaap de Visser, is not in production. We have plenty of food.
It’s about access, and the only thing that could revolutionise food security in South Africa is local government sticking its finger in the pie.
De Visser is director of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape, and has done research on legal issues, human rights and governance on food security in our country.
“What has intrigued us in our work is seeing the role that local government could play, how municipalities could use their powers over infrastructure to address food security problems,” he said.
De Visser is all about local fresh produce markets. “This is not about a deli affair for the rich. It’s about markets that really bring food closer to communities,” he said.
But big stumbling blocks are lack of communal refrigeration, public transport issues, criminal activity and lack of infrastructure.
These are all within the domain of local government.
Municipalities do a lot to “control” informal food retailers when they should rather facilitate their provision of safe and healthy food.
They could use their powers “in a much more progressive way to allow small-scale farmers to bring their produce to the market”.
If small-scale farmers had access to local markets, cold storage and security, South Africans wouldn’t have to “rely on the four or five big retailers”.
He said it was understandable that cities were under pressure to release land for lowcost housing, and that being in proximity to food was not yet high on the agenda, but “if you are plonking people 20km from viable commercial centres for food, they are at a huge disadvantage”.
There is also a knock-on effect along the food chain.
“These are not our chickens,” said Mavuso, 45, standing in pools of blood. “We travel far for our boss to get them, we have no fridge to store them, and we sell them for him for R130. We get R30 for our shift.”
Another issue is the rise of the shopping mall in townships.
According to research by Jane Battersby, an urban geographer with the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town, “supermarkets in low-income areas typically stock less healthy foods than those in wealthier areas and, as a result, do not increase access to healthy foods”.
They also have an impact on local entrepreneurs who used to sell in those areas and are now being pushed out.
Dr Nisha Naicker, a researcher at the Medical Research Council, warns that food insecurity “has been linked to detrimental health outcomes such as obesity, chronic diseases and mental health disorders in adults”.
In children, it is linked to stunting, poor development, and decreased academic ability.
Babalo Mavuso, left, and her friend Amanda Tyeka prepare chickens for sale at a taxi rank in Langa.