21 April 2020

Poverty, Food Insecurity and Covid-19

Submitted by Yasmine

Food security has long been a severe global problem. Covid-19 has dramatically exacerbated the challenge. Currently,  one in every nine people does not have enough to eat, and 113 million are coping with hunger so severe that it poses an immediate threat to life and livelihoods. The coronavirus pandemic’s economic impact will cause these numbers to rise.

Among the most vulnerable groups are the urban poor, whose compromised immunity will make them further susceptible to the disease. While health needs are an urgent and primary concern, we cannot neglect livelihoods or food security aspects. As the number of infections in vulnerable countries grows  among populations who are already malnourished, weak and vulnerable to disease,  a "crisis within a crisis could emerge, in which the health crisis will be compounded by a hunger crisis. And that, in a vicious feedback loop, will leave more people weaker and vulnerable to the virus” (United Nations FAO). Even under an effective COVID-19 containment scenario, 14 million to 22 million people could slip into extreme poverty and low- and middle-income countries could see a 25% decline in agri-food exports.

In South Africa, nearly half of all households already experience hunger or insufficient daily food. Since lockdown was implemented it is reported that the majority of households who do not have savings, or rely on the distribution of grants in order to purchase food are experiencing severe hunger.This is exacerbated by the fact that 66% of the population live in cities or urban areas and are unable to produce their own food. The urban poor already suffer from high rates of malnutrition, and will now be facing unprecedented diet-related health and nutrition challenges.Their diets are influenced by employment; income; the affordability of food; and time, space, and water constraints.

With the impact of covid-19 anticipated to last for years, it is critical that vulnerable urban communities are given the means to grow their own food, and to access fresh vegetables to satisfy their daily vitamin and mineral requirements.

Enter micro gardening, which is the intensive cultivation of vegetables in small spaces, making use of a variety of containers such as crates and buckets (which can be repurposed from previous uses). Self-watering micro gardening combines horticultural techniques with environmental imperatives, such as water saving and household waste management. Micro-gardens can also offer a source of extra income through the sale of small surpluses.

Micro-gardens are highly productive and can be easily managed by anyone – women, men, children, the elderly and the disabled. And keeping them productive is easily achieved through the addition of organic waste.

Companies and individuals should urgently sponsor micro gardens for our most vulnerable sectors. If we do not, we risk consigning millions of our population to hunger and malnutrition. We also risk losing a large portion of the labour force. We all bear a responsibility to help one another get through this pandemic and to recover from it. As the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) states, “we cannot wait. Action must begin now”.

Yasmine Miemiec
5 Inc