Is Grant Enough For Food Security?
Perhaps the best-known tool used to alleviate poverty in South Africa is the social grant, distributed to 17 million beneficiaries nationwide. The social system is one of the best in the world, says Professor Jannie Rossouw, head of the School of Economic and Business Sciences at Wits University. But is this enough to ensure food security
A complex issue
This is a difficult question to answer, Rossouw says, especially since the social grant often has to support more than one person. For instance,
he notes, the pension grant for those over 60 (R1 860) may be the only income for an entire household. “There are also 12 million children under 18 who are beneficiaries, and some of them already have children, who will need to get on to the system,” he says.
Professor Julian May, director at the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security, is straightforward with his answer. May and his colleagues have demonstrated that although Sassa grants are essential for the survival of many poor households in South Africa, the amount is insufficient to ensure food and nutrition security.
“Grants are being used to support many more people than the target groups,” he says, “our high levels of unemployment are the cause of this dilution of the grants, which must also feed young adults and people who are not yet old enough to receive the old-age pension.”
Human rights organisation Black Sash’s national advocacy manager, Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker, says while social grants are a means of providing a lifeline to the poor, the current system as a solution to social security and food security needs to be revised by increasing the amount paid to beneficiaries and reconsidering the eligibility criteria.
“Black Sash has particularly identified the vulnerability of those between 18 and 59 years who are unemployed and do not qualify for social grants,” Abrahams-Fayker says.
“The South African economy has not distributed income through employment and continues to entrench extreme levels of inequality, therefore, increasing the risk of food insecurity. Growing unemployment exposes more South Africans to the threat of food insecurity,” she adds.
Many solutions have been suggested to provide longer-term food security for the most vulnerable. Researchers at Rhodes University’s Department of Environmental Science suggest that social grant beneficiaries supplement their diets with wild foods such as morogo. Other proposals from other sources include that food items such as chicken be zero-rated for VAT.
May, however, feels these solutions are not viable. “Although it would be beneficial if people ate more indigenous foods such as moroga or bambara bean, this is unlikely to be sufficient to deal with the problem. Zero-rating frozen chicken is also unlikely to have much effect as frozen chicken is usually already cheaper than other kinds of meat, and in any case will not deal with the problem of eating insufficient healthy foods. Zero-rating some products such as infant cereals for children older than six months might have some effect, but again, the VAT is a small component of the total cost of food.
“There is no quick fix,” he says. “We need to encourage food systems that provide cheaper healthier foods that are easy for poor people to access. This means rethinking how the government and, in particular, city authorities manage the food system. For example, encouraging informal sector traders in food and supporting small-scale farmers who live near urban centres,” he adds.
“Ultimately we need to consider increasing the size of the grants while continuing to find ways to increase the numbers of people who are employed in South Africa,” he concludes.