While South Africa is ranked as the most food-secure nation in Africa and 44th of 133 countries worldwide (according to the Global Food Security Index 2017 of the Economist Intelligence Unit), we are by no means a healthy nation. The triple burden of malnutrition, so prominent in South Africa, is the apparently contradictory coexistence of malnutrition or hunger (resulting in dwarfism and waste), overfeeding (resulting in overweight and obesity) and micronutrient deficiency (which aggravate the other two) ).
Put simply, in the same community you have overweight (and too small) children, obese adults and people with the consequences of other shortcomings. Interestingly, these problems are less a consequence of food quantity or consumption than food choices.
South Africa has a serious health problem. Lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, strokes and some cancers are among the most important causes of death in the country, by about 40%.
At the same time, the prevalence of overweight and obesity is close to 58% for men and 71% for women. Resulting health risks are most pronounced for women, children and low-income people who reflect and reinforce historical socio-economic inequalities.
As the region experiences rapid urbanization, youth swelling and population growth, these changes are leading to a transition to nutrition, which means that more and more people prefer nutritious foods with low nutritional value, which exacerbate the threefold burden of malnutrition.
The increasing health effects of this transition to nutrition, which is associated with a medium-sized diet in Western style, aggravated by the associated environmental challenges in the food value chain, emphasize an already overburdened public health system, which means public health and well-being and a material risk to business and the economy.
More effective government policies and regulatory intervention are crucial to address some of the systemic problems that cause food choices. Recent research carried out by Incite on behalf of WWF South Africa and the Southern Africa Food Lab, however, suggests that in the absence of a supportive policy climate, it is the task of those involved in the food sector to consider the possible role of cooperation industrial initiatives.
The study proposed four opportunity spaces: 1) Providing a healthy shopping environment; 2) Setting up an innovative cooperative group for food producers; 3) Involve small farmers and fresh market; and 4) Identifying opportunities for collaborative social marketing.
Firstly, the retail trade can play an important role in educating the consumer: he can put more emphasis on healthy food and can contribute to broader training through advertising and placing products in his supermarkets.
Providing a healthy shopping climate would create a cooperative initiative of retailers, manufacturers and local authorities to encourage increased consumer consumption of healthier baskets.
Secondly, there is a lack of consensus when it comes to a vision of the future on food in the country. A number of large food producers showed interest in a collaborative process with other stakeholders to find possible solutions for meeting a nutritional plan developed by the government.
A collaborative innovation group for food producers would bring together selected senior management champions and market leaders, as well as selected government representatives with a focus on building a common vision for a healthy and sustainable food system. Third, a long-term solution requires an economic system that enables people.
To this end, local sourcing (although not without the challenges) should be an important focus in terms of cost reduction and increasing local availability.
The involvement of small farmers and fresh produce markets will play an important role in meeting the demand for affordable fruit and vegetables, particularly in rural areas and the informal economy.
The development of small-scale agriculture with a focus on earlier ecological practices requires much greater cooperation. The focus would initially be on inclusion in formal value chains, with priority given to the development of alternative and (shorter) local value chains, improved local food dependence and affordability.
Finally, identifying opportunities for joint social marketing for education and awareness-raising initiatives in the field of nutrition and healthy eating will be a critical area of attention and a potential non-competitive space that can run through the food sector.
WWF South Africa and the Food Lab have together convened a number of system-wide initiatives in the past 10 years.
The methodology underlies the use of system learning and iteration, taking into account the complex relationships and different perspectives of everyone who has an interest in the problem and the solution.
View the report, An appetite for collaboration at: www.southernafricafoodlab.org/an-appetite-for-collaboration.
* Scott Drimie is director of the South African Food Lab, which is based at the University of Stellenbosch and exists to promote creative responses to the problem of hunger.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.