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National Nutrition Week – Child Hunger Risks Stunting Millions Of SA Children

Growing hunger among South Africa’s children could severely hamper education outcomes, further propelling the cycle of poverty. So warns youth development NPO, Afrika Tikkun as the organisation marks National Nutrition Week.

As society grapples with the litany of socio-economic challenges worsened by Covid-19 and recent looting in South Africa, child hunger is among the most urgent because of devastating long-term risks as well as its immediate child protection and humanitarian consequences. At the same time, the World Bank has warned that between 88 and 115 million people globally are being pushed into poverty as a result of the Covid-19. In 2021, this number is expected to have risen to between 143 and 163 million.

One of the unintended effects of the nearly two-year lockdown in South Africa has been the disruption of feeding schemes at schools, affecting an estimated 9,2 million learners in 19 800 schools across the country. 

The United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) latest Covid-19 Situation Report, the widespread unrest that hit parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces in July continue to be felt at multiple levels, from an increase in child hunger in affected areas and access to education affected through damage and destruction of 144 schools.

Compounding food security risks for vulnerable children are the effects of the lockdown on national food supply which has caused food price increases and supply deficiencies. 

According to analysis from the North West University, Covid-19 containment strategies affected food supply chains in relation to agricultural production and its transportation. At the height of lockdown restrictions, countries suspended the export of produce, which affected the supply chains in South Africa.

Education and generating awareness about the role of nutrition in socio-economic development is evidently lacking in South Africa as pointed out by a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Sciences. The study found that most impoverished children had poor nutrition knowledge, especially of food groups and their roles in the body. This includes 27.4% for grains/starchy foods, 11.6% for fruits and vegetables, and 37.5% for milk and milk products.

In addition to ongoing feeding programs, Afrika Tikkun has responded to the crisis situation in some areas of the country where child hunger has been especially prevalent. 

“Our centres across South Africa provide meals for 10 000 people, mostly young people and children, daily,” says Afrika Tikkun NPO’s CEO, Alef Meulenberg. Of these 10 000 people approximately 40% are orphaned and vulnerable children who also receive monthly food parcels from Afrika Tikkun. 

“We are impassioned by the principle that education cannot reach a hungry child. Education outcomes are closely tied to a child’s access to adequate nutrition, and without an education, the cycle of poverty may continue for millions of children,” adds Meulenberg. 

This is why Afrika Tikkun has partnered with various stakeholders and donors to tackle hunger in communities from various angles. Teaching young people to grow their own food for commercial use and to feed themselves has been equally important to Afrika Tikkun’s strategy to fight poverty in South Africa. 

“A key component of fighting poverty is not just to give food but also to teach young people including children how to produce food, preferably from an early age.” This has been a major component in the company’s food security program. The third pillar of fighting poverty and hunger is teaching entrepreneurship, which is a major ingredient in Afrika Tikkun’s community outreach programs,” concludes Meulenberg. 

“By investing in programs that empower young people in poor communities to become entrepreneurs and employers, we have seen that the power to eradicate poverty lies within the young people and communities themselves. They only need to be empowered with the resources and knowledge to take the first step and the continued support they need to grow and become part of the solution.” 

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