The COVID-19 pandemic has made a number of global crises worse, including inequality and poverty. Another is food insecurity. Researchers in South Africa found that food insecurity levels were still high even after the pandemic. This means that more people don’t have reliable access to safe and nutritious food.
This was a high number before COVID-19, with almost 20% of South African households having insufficient or very poor access to food. The figure reached as high as 54% in some of Cape Town’s poorer neighbourhoods.
The pandemic didn’t only shed light on the existing problems. These problems can also be addressed in the long-term by civil society organizations. These groups performed a tremendous job in South Africa during the COVID-19 crisis. They provided millions of meals to people who were most in need. For example, in the Western Cape, more than half the food aid was distributed during the lockdown to reach 5.2 million people.
Continues As Emergency Global
These organizations would not have been possible without them. Their work continues as emergency food aid is needed. They didn’t only respond to the pandemic’s effects, they also addressed the fundamental inequalities within a food system that was designed to maximize profits for large corporations and food processors rather than provide safe and nutritious food to the majority of people. These organizations should also be included more formally in food governance, as we have argued in our recent study.
Our argument is based on three key reasons. The first is that South African civil society organizations have demonstrated they are willing and capable of holding the government accountable. They are also well-placed to share their local knowledge. Able to identify the needs of the most vulnerable members of their communities. They can also play an important role in the education and sharing of information about nutrition and the food system.
Our Global Research
Our research focused on understanding the changing landscape of civil society organisations in relation to food security as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. We also examined the relationships between these organizations and government agencies. We also examine how organizations can be support to participate in food governance following the COVID-19 crisis.
Research revealed that civil society organisations relied heavily upon their existing networks and relationships to communities to distribute food. These relationships allowed them to identify vulnerable people who could otherwise have fallen through the cracks and become hungry.
Partnering was crucial. Our research showed that more established organizations often channel resources to smaller, informal community-based organizations.
Relationships Between Civil Society
This collaboration did not extend to the relationships between civil society organisations and government departments. These organisations had a difficult time working with the government. It was due to mismatches between the government’s rigid compliance culture and box-ticking, and the reality that organisations saw on the ground. Some bright spots found. Certain organizations developed strong relationships with people in the provincial government.
Our research shows that civil society organisations play an important, varied role in South African society. It is important to see them as more than just service delivery channels. This will enable them to play a greater role in creating a better food system.
This approach has a strong international precedent. In Brazil, Belo Horizonte was an example of a city where civil society organizations worked in close collaboration with government departments to develop and implement programs that reduced hunger.
South African civil society organizations must be grant a seat at decision-making tables and empower to drive long-term changes.
Establishing Systems For Collaboration Global
This can done in a number of ways. The 2017 South African National Food and Nutrition Security Plan required the creation of a Food and Nutrition Security Council. This process should be expedite and representatives of civil society must be include in the members. Similar councils could also establish at the local and provincial levels.
Short-term solutions like emergency feeding must be link to long-term system change. It is possible to help stakeholders, such as government officials, see the whole system and make it more understandable. This can done by establishing community kitchens. These kitchens bring people together to not only grow, cook, and share food but also to discuss how to address food insecurity and how to recognize how inequality is shaping it.
It is important that civil society organizations are connect to the discussions that shape policies and decisions about food and policy that affect it.
Environment That Supports Them
They should be allow to work in an environment that supports global them. They should not be restrict by excessive regulation or stop from doing business. The private sector is well serve by established government programs to reduce red tape and increase the ease of doing business. Civil society organizations would also benefit from similar initiatives.
During the crisis, there have been instances of collaboration between civil society organizations and local and provincial governments to provide food aid. It is important to continue this collaborative approach so it can be a lasting legacy of the crisis.
Building partnerships and creating enabling environments takes effort and time. COVID-19 has demonstrated that the government must invest in building and strengthening relationships beyond times of crisis so it is able to call on them in times of need.