Mind the hunger gap – communities starving for skills development as food prices continue to soar

By Roland Innes, Group CEO at Dyna Training

The war in Ukraine and continued lockdowns in Asia continue to send significant ripples throughout the global supply chain network. With predicted shortages in basic commodities such as cooking oil, flour, and fuel still to come, South Africans are already feeling the impact through rising prices. Fuel price hikes are putting further strain on our post-pandemic recovery and government interventions such as the SASSA grant and general fuel levy reprieve are not enough to help millions stuck in abject poverty within our communities. Economic conditions are only getting worse, highlighting a serious need to help our communities find ways to cope in times of distress. Failure to do so can only spark further civil unrest, as the July 2021 riots showed. Only by establishing critical community-based skills development programmes and taking drastic measures to help the most vulnerable South Africans, can we hope to build self-sufficient communities that can find solutions to their challenges.

A war on prices

Tough times lie ahead, and not just for the poorest of the poor. The effects are being felt by all South Africans, as food and fuel prices continue to soar. The cost of living is getting higher, household indebtedness is climbing, with no relief in sight as Ukraine’s exports of grain and oilseeds have mostly stopped and Russia’s are under threat. Together, the two countries supply 12% of the world’s traded calories. Up 53% since the start of 2022, wheat prices jumped a further 6% in May, after India suspended exports due to a persistent heatwave. When there is a reduction in the supply of grain, rich countries can still afford to buy, but the poorer countries that cannot are forced to inflate prices, which has a devastating effect on all consumers.

Staring down food insecurity: a scary reality

As the world faces its worst food insecurity in recent history, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, what can be done? Among other things, the Daily Maverick strongly urges that the government, together with the Consumer Goods Council of SA  (all major food retailers) and the Competition Commission should define the contents of a shopping basket of essential foodstuffs necessary to meet nutritional needs, under the guidance of expert nutritionists. An immediate moratorium should be placed on price increases for these goods. Our government also needs to facilitate transactions between private enterprise and foreign governments to ensure that we get the best possible prices for essential commodities. For example, India is paying 20 – 30% less on oil, simply because they’ve negotiated deals directly with Russia. In South Africa, local governments need to actively assist people to grow food at home and on pavements and in communal food gardens. A plan is necessary to address food wastage, as nearly 30% of food produced in South Africa (almost 10.3 million tonnes of food) never reaches people’s stomachs.

Skills to become economically active

To address unemployment, particularly in the youth, it will be essential to start skills development programmes at ground level. Communities need to look seriously at upskilling themselves, both entrepreneurially, not only so that they can find other opportunities to earn income but also to equip and to organise themselves to be able to survive the upcoming challenges. Stokvels for groceries will become increasingly important, and households will need to band together to utilise the power of bulk buy discounts, while either repackaging their purchases for their own use or on-selling.

Skills to survive

Skills development programmes will be necessary to impart critical entrepreneurial skills to communities. Even permanently employed people will need a secondary income to survive, which means that people are going to need at least one side hustle to get by. In addition to skills that can help people start businesses with very little capital, it will be necessary for them to engage other members of the family in entrepreneurial activities. While households often have only one income earner with six or seven dependents relying on that single income, the majority of dependents within that household could be economically active in some other way.

Skills to face the daily struggle

Instead of sitting at home, reliant on that single income, it will become necessary to train the breadwinner to engage eligible family members in entrepreneurial activities that bring in money or contribute to the survival of the household unit. In addition to income-generating skills, it will be necessary to educate and equip people with practical life skills. All communities, not just lower income communities, will benefit greatly from learning how to stretch their money as far as possible. From sourcing the lowest prices when shopping, to bulk buying and stockpiling, to bulk meal planning and preparation, there are many survival tactics that will need to be used to get by.

The only way to avoid further civil unrest

These business venture creation skills and entrepreneurial skills training programmes, along with food security initiatives will need to be sponsored at a provincial and local level in order to start addressing the hunger gap. This starts with an acknowledgment from all stakeholders, particularly the government, that this is a burning platform. Unless we act together urgently, there will be further political and civil unrest. This is not an electioneering campaign, it’s survival. Social grants and fuel levy reprieves are not addressing the root cause of the problem. Only aggressive steps by the government to facilitate better prices for commodities, along with the mobilisation and education of communities can the skills be developed to survive the  hardships that lie ahead.

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