Food security and multi-level governance

  • GCRO
  • Date of publication: 30 April 2019

A recent meeting of the Food Governance Community of Practice (CoP), held on 17 April in Gauteng, posed critical questions around the responsibilities associated with food security. What is the state’s mandate for food security? How do the responsibilities of local, provincial and national spheres of government intersect? And how does this relate to mandates for poverty alleviation, economic development and agriculture?

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), people are defined as being food secure when ‘they have availability and adequate access at all times to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life’. In South Africa, this right of access to sufficient food is enshrined in the Constitution. The Constitution also divides power between national, provincial and local government in a way that connects subnational governments to food security in many ways.

“Food security is a complex issue that encompasses access to food, the affordability of food, the transport of food, where to find and cook food, and issues around proper nutrition,” explains Gillian Maree, Senior Researcher at the GCRO. “Hungry people are unable to reach their full potential, are more susceptible to ill health, and lack the capacity to save and invest. Hunger is therefore as much a cause as an effect of poverty. The challenge is to put in place policies and institutions that promote the interrelated goals of agricultural productivity growth, hunger reduction, and the sustainable use of natural resources.”

According to the GCRO’s 5th Quality of Life (QoL) survey 2017/2018, one-fifth (21%) of survey respondents indicated that an adult in their household had to skip a meal due to lack of money in the previous year. This was an increase from 14% in the 2013/14 survey. In households with children, 21% reported that there had been a time in the past year when there was not enough money to feed children, up from 11% in 2013/14.

Hosted at the GCRO and convened by Florian Kroll, the Food Governance CoP meeting was organised by the Centre of Excellence in Food Security, which is jointly hosted by the University of the Western Cape and the University of Pretoria. As a multi-stakeholder platform, the meeting brought together leading provincial and metro officials, academics, and civil society representatives concerned with food, livelihoods and health.

In the first session of the meeting, Professor Jaap de Visser, Director of the Dullah Omar Institute, outlined the divisions of power between different levels of government and identified points of leverage that subnational governments have to influence food security. In the second session, participants were briefed on relevant policy innovations in Gauteng on poverty alleviation and economic development; and then held discussions around how this connects with multi-level governance, the food security mandate, and the role of other stakeholder groups such as civil society and trade associations.

“There is wide recognition that food insecurity is increasing in our country,” Maree concludes. “As the GCRO, our role in these workshops is to create a stakeholder forum for all practitioners to start engaging and looking at policy. Through the Food Governance Community of Practice, we are able to connect with people who share this concern, enable dialogue, stimulate information exchange and learning, and identify knowledge gaps.”


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