Partnering For New Solutions To An Old-Age Problem
Although access to food in South Africa has improved gradually through the past two decades, according to StatsSA’s General Household Survey 2018, 11.3 per cent of individuals and 9.7 per cent of households were vulnerable to hunger in 2018. And COVID-19 has only made the situation worse.
“At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, corporates immediately recognised that to address the looming public health crisis, they would need to step in and contribute beyond the realm of traditional corporate social investment,” says Tanya Dos Santos, global head of sustainability at Investec.
While this helped stem the tide, it was a double-edged sword, explains Dos Santos. “Corporates may have diverted money away from their planned programmes to support the short-term needs of the pandemic. Many charitable sponsorships were withdrawn and ad hoc public donations evaporated, putting several smaller charities under immense pressure to continue their good work.”
Putting your best food forward
Dos Santos says Investec recognised the needs within their communities and worked with government and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) to implement solutions. “Localised work, at a community level, is most effective. Our partnerships are built on long-term relationships. We know these partners well – we seldom just donate and leave.”
Investec partnered with FoodForward SA, which recovers surplus food from the supply chain and distributes it to those in need, explains Dos Santos. “We chose FoodForward SA for several reasons, but largely because of the depth and scale of the organisation, which can reach many of the communities in the regions where our offices are located.”
She says FoodForward SA’s infrastructure and footprint has enabled it to distribute more than 6 500 tonnes of food (equating to 26 million meals) to 475 000 beneficiaries since the start of lockdown last year. This is made possible through a network of around 1 000 registered beneficiary organisations that have the relationships and know-how to ensure that the most vulnerable are reached.”
Making amazing maize
Distributing healthy food is crucial: an issue being addressed by the Department of Science and Innovation – National Research Foundation’s Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS).
“People tend to eat what is available and affordable,” says Professor Naushad Emmambux of the University of Pretoria, who works with the CoE-FS. “If you look at cheap food, it’s mostly energy-dense foods. And people who work all day and don’t have time to prepare healthy meals will also likely go with fast food, characterised by high levels of carbohydrates, sugar and fat.”
Emmambux and others are working on innovations in manufacturing healthy, nutrient-dense food – what he calls SMART (safe, marketable, affordable, ready-to-eat, tasty) food. One such project involves making the starch in maize more resistant to digestion, thus lowering the glycaemic index. Another involves developing complementary foods such as sweet potato porridge for babies, for whom maize meal is not ideal. “If something like maize meal is readily available and affordable, people will buy for the whole family. They won’t think to buy another food for the baby,” says Emmambux. “So we need to explain that it’s not advisable to give maize meal to babies 6–24 months old as complementary food.”
The technologies being developed should be adopted by SMEs, Emmambux says. “With these technologies, we need to ensure it is financially feasible to make products at a small- or medium-scale, which can then be affordable.”