Food equity and nutrition inequality

The African food dialogues are an initiative of the Southern African Food Lab, which is housed in the Faculty of AgriSciences bringing together a panel of leading experts on the food system. The most recent dialogue focused on nutrition inequality with Nicholas Nisbett (IDS, Sussex, UK) and Jane Battersby from the University of Cape Town speaking. This dialogue was facilitated by Prof Thuli Madonsela from the Law Faculty at Stellenbosch University and Prof Dieter von Fintel from Economic and Management Sciences chaired the session.

The viewpoint on reducing inequalities for food security was the main topic of discussion. Nisbett and Battersby presented a report that was commissioned by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) panel of experts by the through the evaluation of the current state of the food system, food security, and nutrition underlying causes. This rigorous research presented identifies additional emerging issues, which then feeds back into a setting of future agenda.

Prof von Fintel said that he found the Dialogue helpful as it was centred around the report of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) High Level Panel on food system and nutrition inequalities that Battersby and Nisbett have been involved in. This work was done with the inputs of experts from multiple disciplines, including economists, lawyers and food systems experts. The FAO is open to comments on the draught of their report into the new year, but at the Dialogue there was a clear call for participation and public commentary from other stakeholders who do not typically participate in these high-level debates. This kind of participation indicates that the FAO panel is concerned about both food inequalities and participation inequalities.

The panel’s discussion emphasised many aspects of the food system and went beyond just “farm to fork”. It involved; how should we consider the contribution of food waste? the causes of inequality? How should we consider land rights in maintaining current inequalities or keeping people in poverty? Considering that the majority of young people finishing agricultural skill training lack access to land; how then can we enable these people to use their skills? Is there a possibility to re-engage training on indigenous food?

The discussion also touched on the double burden of malnutrition on young children and their caregivers in south Africa, expressing concern that data shows inequality outcomes – that 25% of children are stunted and the health implications of this long-term are not acceptable and demand attention. The difficult question of ‘how’ to change these numbers was an exit point. With the suggestion that many small transformations as well as systemic ones are needed.

“There were serious concerns about who should be in charge of food production as well as the viability of using traditional, climate-resilient crops to address current issues in the food system. The effectiveness of social transfers in reducing food inequalities has been questioned.” Adds Prof von Fintel

In summary, the discussion clarified the relationship between social justice and food equity, and how to build commitments and action to address unfairness, injustice, and exclusion.