20 July 2022

Good nutrition is the foundation for a better future. Here’s how Alex can grow it

Submitted by MyPressportal Team
Good nutrition is the foundation for a better future. Here’s how Alex can grow it

Food security, nutrition, and children’s ability to achieve their full growth potential are inevitably linked, and while feeding schemes provide an essential support mechanism for vulnerable children and the elderly, communities like those in Alexandra, Johannesburg, need to identify and pursue different ways of making sure that they have enough food.

Undernutritionis particularly devastating for pregnant women and young children, as it leads to wasting (low weight for height), stunting (low height for age), and being underweight in relation to age. The effects of stunting last a lifetime and are the result of recurring undernutrition due to being unable to afford food, poor maternal health and nutrition during pregnancy, or inappropriate food. Those affected by stunting are not able to achieve their full physical and cognitive potential.

Poor nutrition also leads to diet-related non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular disease and hypertension, some cancers, and diabetes – impacting on already strained economic circumstances in households that cannot afford nutritious food.

“So many households in the Alexandra community do not have the money to buy the nutritious food that they need, and tend to buy the cheapest, most filling food that they can afford, rather than being able to focus on a balanced diet of protein, fruit, and vegetables,” says Trish Lockwood, programme specialist at Rays of Hope, which has been helping the Alexandra community grow towards sustainability and independence for more than 30 years.

“For this reason, we ensure that every person who comes to our premises for a programme always receives a good meal as this may be their only meal of the day,” she continued. “We are also encouraging the parents of the little children at our early-childhood development centre to send their children to school with a banana instead of the usual vetkoek – both cost R2,00.

“Our next goal is to lead community members to understanding the importance of nutrition, and inspiring them to start growing their own food,” Lockwood says. “This could be in containers outside their homes, or through collaboration with neighbours in open and available pieces of land in the neighbourhood, which is admittedly very limited in a township such as Alexandra,” she adds.

There are significant challenges to establishing food gardens in an area as densely populated as Alexandra, including a lack of space, land ownership, and local access to clean water. Growing food is often viewed as a rural activity, and many people don’t know how to start growing fruit and vegetables, in addition to not being able to afford seeds and organic fertilisers and pesticides.

If individual food gardens are currently not possible due to a lack of spatial planning, land ownership, knowledge, and funding, Alexandra needs a holistic approach to food security if it is to add more community food gardens to those already established, to make nutritious, affordable food available.

Successful food producers could even go far beyond growing food for their own families and communities – they could build sustainable businesses that sell fresh produce to neighbouring suburbs. Allied industries like chicken farming and egg production would also be possible, adding even more depth to the community’s involvement in improving nutrition.

“Rays of Hope – and the Alexandra community – need the support of surrounding communities and businesses as we find ways to encourage residents to either start their own micro gardens, or to find and access space where they can form community co-operatives,” Lockwood says. “This could be in the form of funding seeds, seedlings, or fertilisers, or through identifying suitable parcels of land and arranging the necessary permissions to use it for community agriculture.”

For more information about Rays of Hope and its programmes in Alexandra, visit www.raysofhope.co.za