Alternative food networks and food insecurity in South Africa
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Food security remains a persistent global challenge. Inequality means that food insecurity is disproportionately experienced. Despite positive shifts in the state of food security at a global scale, recent reports from the Food and Agricultural Organisation suggest that in Africa the total number of undernourished people continues to increase. The paper argues that there is a certain “stuckness” in food security responses. The mutually converging transitions of the urban transition, food regime shifts and the nutrition transition demand different ways of understanding the food system, food security and the components thereof, including value chains. The paper reviews efforts designed to respond to these mutually reinforcing challenges but argues that generalisations are problematic. Borrowing concepts from the North is equally problematic. Using the concept of Alternative Food Networks (AFNs), the paper interrogates these networks and asks how such alternative networks manifest in the context of food insecurity in South African cities. AFNs evident in Northern cities and regions are generally privileged and present a perspective of the food system that prioritises sustainability and a deep green and often local ethic, embodying aspirations of food system change. In Southern cities, food system engagement is less about engagement for change, but rather, engagement to enable food access. Traditional value chain parlance sees a value chain extending from producer to consumer. The food access value chain present within poor urban communities in South Africa reflects more than just financial transactions. Transactions of reciprocity and social exchange are embedded within food security strategies, and are often informed by the enactment of agency. Using the term “the food access continuum” this paper calls for a far more expansive view of food access strategies and networks. Understanding these networks is essential to effective food and nutrition security policy and programming.