‘Our food system is broken’. If there is one sentence that sums up much of the SA public-civil sector dialogue throughout the last year, this is it. Countless op-eds on issues plaguing our food system and photographic exposés of seemingly infinite food parcel queues have become the norm in our newsfeeds, but this information is nothing new. Covid-19, for all the misery and suffering it has caused, has also exposed the fragility of our food supply chains and deepened the fault lines of all inequalities. Our food system has been broken for several lifetimes but only now are we grappling with the gravity of the situation.
To truly understand how many individuals and groups are affected, we need to consider just how diverse food system stakeholders are: at its core food is a basic human right therefore every person alive has a stake in food.
Honing in on the food sector, we have our farmers, processors, chefs, distributors, restaurants, retailers and soup kitchens, not to mention all the auxiliary stakeholders (government enablers, composters, packagers, for example). This entire ecosystem has a vested interest in food.
On paper South Africa is a food secure country (taken to mean that we produce enough food to feed the whole population) but in reality, the picture is very different: 1-in-5 households reported weekly hunger in November/December 2020 (NIDS-CRAM Wave 3 Survey). It’s also easy to blame individual stakeholders for their part in perpetuating injustices but our society is set up in an individualistic way that is collaboration-phobic with a scarcity mindset.
Until we change the dynamics between food stakeholders, there is unlikely to be much progress. FEED has come about as a result of years of work in different parts of the food system, where it’s become abundantly clear how much duplication, inefficiency and opaqueness is transpiring. FEED responds to a need for co-operation, often between stakeholders with ostensibly different mandates and focus areas.
By applying a systems thinking approach (i.e. a holistic view of how parts in a system interrelate and change over time), FEED aims to bridge gaps in understanding and to leverage resources innovatively through identifying gaps and opportunities in the food system. Ultimately, we aim to contribute towards a food system that is more equitable, equal and democratic.