On 16 September, Dr Tracy Ledger had a gripping conversation with Mark Heywood from Maverick Citizen, in a Jacana ‘Don’t Shut Up’ session, about the state of the food system in SA.
The conversation was covered in an article in the Daily Maverick by Shani Reddy:
In her book, An Empty Plate: Why we are losing the battle for our food system, why it matters and how we can win it back, Tracy Ledger discusses the lack of coordination between national, provincial, and local government, and the fact that nobody is taking responsibility for the hunger crisis. She forensically examined food retailers, from how they profit and set prices, to the supply chain processes.
Ledger explains that one of the reasons she authored her book is because she realised how little the average South African understood about the food system in which we exist:
“There is this huge system out there that is incredibly important, and this system determines who gets to eat and who doesn’t get to eat. It determines who can make a living from farming and who does not. It determines the income of farm workers, the price, the quality, and the source of food on your shelves.”
Nearly 7,500 children under the age of five die annually in South Africa as a direct result of hunger. “This is not because of the long-term effects of malnutrition on the immune system, [these children] literally starve to death,” says Ledger.
Moreover, Ledger states that one in four South African children are “so chronically malnourished” that they are classified as stunted. This means those children are prone to suffer ill health, hypertension, diabetes and likely to be obese later in life due to the permanent damage of their metabolic system.
“Those children are also much less likely to do well in school, because their cognitive development standards, even if we had a fantastically functioning education system, would be disadvantaged,” says Ledger.
Malnutrition not only affects a child’s health, but it permanently damages the brain’s impulse control, which in turn creates an increased propensity for violence in adults.
Ledger explains that, “It is highly likely that the single biggest factor that explains our extraordinarily high levels of violence and domestic violence is, in fact, directly related to childhood malnutrition.”