Food for thought on lo­cal mar­kets

Sunday Times - - News Society - By TANYA FARBER

● 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.

Pic­ture: Esa Alexander

Ba­balo Mavuso, left, and her friend Amanda Tyeka pre­pare chick­ens for sale at a taxi rank in Langa.

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