Press release

New report warns against the normalisation of hunger in South Africa

Published on 27 June 2023

Despite the right to food being enshrined in the country’s constitution, food insecurity remains persistent in South Africa and experts warn against accepting hunger as the norm, in a new report published today by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS).

Nearly half the population (45 per cent) of South Africa experienced moderate or extreme food insecurity in 2018–20, twice as much as in Brazil (another upper-middle-income country). Seasonal hunger is also a problem among commercial wine and fruit farm workers due to the seasonality of work opportunities.

The report points out that this is not a problem confined to South Africa, with large numbers of people in countries such as Brazil and the UK unable to meet their basic food needs. The extent to which this has become accepted in day-to-day life suggests that hunger has become the new norm.

The researchers highlight that this widespread experience of hunger is not due to a lack of money or food production but a lack of political will.

Stephen Devereux, Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, and co-author of the report, explains:

“We’re in serious danger of everyday hunger becoming the norm for many people in a country that has enough resources and state capacity to prevent food insecurity.

“Unlike other issues, the right to food has not become ‘positively politicised’ – our politicians don’t lose votes because of hunger – and that needs to change. Civil society is attempting to change this, but much more needs to be done.”

The report explains that hunger in South Africa is rooted in its long history of economic and social injustice. The food system was designed to ensure that the black labour force was adequately but not necessarily well fed, and to protect and promote white farmers.

Powerful corporate actors, including supermarket chains,
then consolidated their control of the food system in the 1960s, and despite the dramatic changes that have taken place since the end of apartheid in 1994, widespread hunger persists.

Gareth Haysom, Senior Researcher, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town, and partner of the IDS-based Food Equity Centre, said:

“Despite the provisions within the Constitution, the legacies of slow violence and exclusion persist in South Africa, and sadly so does hunger. The problem is not due to a lack of food but is a problem rooted in a highly unequal society and a food system that doesn’t work for vulnerable and marginalised people.

“The Government needs to work with communities to find practical ways to achieve more equitable food systems, and improve access to nutritious, affordable and sustainable food for everyone.”

The IDS report ‘Pathways to Achieving Equitable Food Systems’ finds that inequities in food systems are the result of deliberate choices by powerful entities. The report identifies approaches to counter these power imbalances and build more equitable food systems:

  • Placing more emphasis on bringing together community- and government- level actions which can specifically target inequity.
  • Pursuing multiple approaches to tackling challenges within food systems, rather than investing heavily in single initiatives, which are likely to lack inclusivity and lead to ‘locking-in’ policies that may not work or make the situation even worse.
  • Paying closer attention to who will benefit most from proposed solutions, challenging initiatives where they do not explicitly support marginalised people.
  • Finding spaces for the voices of those suffering from inequity.


About this press release

Programmes and centres
Food Equity Centre
South Africa

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