South Africa faces an impending food security crisis if there isn't urgent action to correct unsustainable practices, says an environmental organisation.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), South Africa will have to produce 50% more food by 2050 to feed an estimated population of 73 million people.
"We need to understand that our current approach to food production is by no means benign. Both globally and in South Africa, agriculture is the largest land use and has the heaviest impact on land transformation and biodiversity loss. Soil degradation, for example, results in a net loss of arable land every year," Agri-Food Systems: Facts and Futures report author Tatjana von Bormann told News24.
Farming in SA needs comprehensive reform in order to meet the needs of a growing population, says the 56-page report.
'Resilient and secure food system'
The report reads: "Until a few years ago, WWF focused on the impacts of agricultural production, which are by far the most significant environmental impacts.
"However, focusing on farms only will not bring about the necessary structural transformation that is needed for a resilient and secure food system.
"If we want to achieve this shift within a complex adaptive system, we need to follow a socio-ecological approach, where the social, economic and political dimensions (the actors) are embedded within the ecological component (nature).
"This approach hinges on understanding all the possible interconnections and feedback loops so that, in intending to fix one thing, we do not create another unintended consequence."
The report argues that, while SA has kept undernourishment below 5% since 1990, there are still significant challenges, with half the population still living below the poverty line.
"Paramount among these [challenges] are diet-related health problems, such as the growing prevalence of obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and the persistence of hunger, nutrient deficiencies and stunting," says the report adding that women, children and the poor are most vulnerable.
Food insecurity is a global problem, despite commitments to ensure food security and poverty alleviation.
According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), 45% of deaths of children under five can be attributed to malnutrition as an underlying cause, and two billion people worldwide suffer from vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
The WWF report cited a number of challenges to food security in SA: smallholder farmers without support; market dominance squeezing out smaller players; and the cost of healthy food as key hurdles to food security.
In addition, the impact of climate change, population increase, and food demand was likely to place serious demands on the food system.
"There will be a doubling of demand for certain products - meat and dairy included - by 2050. How will we meet this? It can't just be about more production. We need a complete transformation to a system so that it nurtures human health and the environment," said Von Bormann.
The WFP said that its Fill the Nutrient Gap tool was being used to engage with stakeholders on nutrition strategies in terms of market access and offers, dietary practices, nutrient intake gap of key target groups and affordability of a nutritious diet.
The organisation's 2018 Global Nutrition Report puts stunting (chronic malnutrition) at 27.4% for South African children under five (2015 statistics). That report also found 5.6% of children under five in SA were wasting.
The WWF said that progress in food security was not limited to the actions of any single role player.
"Progress must be cross-sectoral and made on all levels more or less simultaneously. WWF advocates that the necessary transformative change will be driven by inclusive regenerative farming, optimal water use, responsible sourcing, reducing food waste and dietary shift," said Von Bormann.
South African policy highlights the risk of the impact of climate change on food security.
"Climate change has the potential to reduce food production and the availability of potable water, with consequences for migration patterns and levels of conflict," says the National Development Plan Executive Summary.
It adds that the effect of climate change will have a disproportionate impact on "the poor, especially women and children".
The NDP has the goal of creating a food surplus, with one-third of supply produced by small-scale farmers.
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry was not immediately available to comment on the report on Tuesday.