Hidden Hunger Strips Away Dignity, Perpetuates Inequality and Destroys South Africans’ Potential to Prosper


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WASHINGTON – One in four people in South Africa do not have enough to eat, and half the population is at risk of hunger, despite the country producing more than enough food.

According to a new report by Oxfam, low incomes, rising costs, a lack of access to productive resources and climate change are amongst the reasons causing 13 million people to go to bed hungry. One family of four was found to live on just R6 (USD$0.54) a day.  “The children wake up hungry in the middle of the night. At times we feel it would be better if someone adopted them to give them a chance in life,” says Elzetta Vooges, 23, from the Eastern Cape.

For many, hunger strips away dignity. Elzetta describes feeling she is “rated the cheapest of the cheapest”. Focus groups in 9 municipalities across South Africa reveal how hunger perpetuates inequality and destroys South African’s potential to prosper. As World Food Day approaches, the report Hidden Hunger in South Africa: the faces of hunger and malnutrition in a food secure nation reveals hunger is a daily and crippling reality for too many.

Oxfam’s Rashmi Mistry said: “The right to sufficient food is enshrined in the constitution but government policies have failed for one in four South Africans.  October has been adopted by the government as food security month but just increasing production and creating one giant food mountain will not help the poorest and does not go far enough to address the root causes of hunger.  We need better implemented policies that are developed with those most affected by hunger and backed by legislation that holds everyone to account for people having enough to eat.”

The report found that despite the nations’ farms producing enough calories to feed every one of its 54-million citizens, half of South Africans either face hunger or are at risk of hunger.  To cope, people skip meals, eat smaller portions or make do with cheap, poor-quality food.

Women and girls face hunger more often than men. They earn less than men for the same work, cannot work as many hours and find it harder to get jobs.  Despite this, they are often responsible for providing food for the family.

Communities in the nine municipalities say that the price of staple foods, like maize have increased. Electricity prices have escalated by over 200% cumulatively since 2010, forcing people to choose between food and fuel.  The inequality of access to food across South African households is stark – the poorest spend 50% of their incomes on food whilst the richest 10% of the population spend only 10% on food, meaning any increases in prices hits the poorest pockets the hardest.

Access to food is also limited by food retailers’ control over pricing and availability. Five retailers control 60% of the formal retail market, leaving small and informal traders finding it hard to compete.  The food industry has been plagued by collusion and price fixing scandals. Prices are inflated whilst farmworkers often struggle to survive in meager wages, or face losing their jobs completely.

Without access to land, water, tools and training many poor communities don’t even have the ability to produce their own food.  Meanwhile, climate change threatens to make production harder and food prices rise. Communities all over the country report changes in the climate that mean they cannot grow or store food as they used to.  “We used to eat fresh food from our gardens, but now it’s impossible because of the high temperatures that make it impossible for us to work in our gardens” Community member from Eastern Cape.


Oxfam is calling for:

  • A National Food Act to ensure that no one goes hungry. The Act would require cooperation and accountability from the government, private sector and individuals.
  • Opening of the latest National Food and Nutrition Policy to meaningful public consultation.
  • A fair, accountable and sustainable food industry that ends practices such as price fixing, reduces waste and does more to help small scale producers.
  • Improved rights to land and waterways to help communities facing hunger provide for themselves.
  • Plans to tackle climate change and reduce carbon emissions which negatively impact on food production.

Further recommendations are detailed in the report Hidden Hunger in South Africa.

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