Aliziwe Matyholo, age 9

Today is Blog Action Day 2011. It is also World Food Day. This year's theme for Blog Action Day is Food. Bloggers all over the world are writing about this one theme, from their own unique perspective. To find out more, visit the Blog Action Day website. Read more of our Blog Action Day posts on Heifer Blog here.

by Claire Hawkridge and Magdalena Wos - Heifer South Africa

Food security means knowing where your next meal is coming from. It means not having to worry about whether your children will get sick because they don't have the right food to eat. Food security means growing up healthy and being able to take part in the bright future of the country. For 12 million South Africans, food security is a distant dream.

Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Repporteur on the Right to Food, visited South Africa in July. In his report to the government he said that 12 million people in this country are food insecure, 70 per cent of those in rural areas.* World Food Day on 16 October 2011 is a celebration for those who have enough. For those who are food insecure, it is another reminder that they do not have access to regular, safe, healthy food. Heifer International South Africa (Heifer) is working hard to raise awareness about this significant and growing problem in our country this World Food Day.

Food insecurity is particularly prevalent in rural South Africa. The country's agricultural sector is divided into well-developed large-scale commercial activities and underdeveloped small scale producers, many of whom are subsistence farmers. This isn't the way it works in many other countries, where many products are grown on small farms by small-scale commercial producers because it makes better economic sense. Small farms can be profitable businesses when the conditions are right.

In South Africa, the food system positions poor rural families as consumers rather than producers. This makes them extremely vulnerable to volatile food costs and the high cost of travelling to urban areas or purchasing from small, expensive local shops. Without the resources and skills to produce high-quality food locally or market access to sell their produce, poor rural families are doubly disadvantaged - they struggle to find employment or income generating opportunities and they must pay more for food because the transportation costs from urban centres are so high.

Heifer International South Africa believes it doesn't have to be this way. The thousands of families we've helped to become small farmers over the past decade agree. Heifer works with impoverished rural communities to end hunger and poverty in South Africa and to care for the earth. With the help of our donors, we provide rural families with training, agricultural inputs (seeds, fruit tree saplings, livestock), assistance with business development and on-going support. Project members move from struggling to find enough to eat, to producing food for themselves and their immediate families and finally to micro agro-business development, where they work together to effectively market their produce, build up their businesses and eventually create jobs for other community members. Animals are used because of the income generating and food security opportunities they provide, both through animal products and through the use of manure as fertilizer to grow fruit and vegetables.

But it isn't only the people who receive livestock from Heifer International South Africa who benefit. Building food secure communities means helping individual families achieve greater, more regular access to healthy food but it also means helping those families to help others around them. Through Heifer's unique Passing on the Gift® concept, each family that receives animals (and begins to build a business) also gives an animal to another family. Families pass on food security and income generating opportunities to each other.

World Food Day is an important opportunity for all South Africans to learn about the real hunger and poverty that still exists in our country. It is also an opportunity to remember that it doesn't have to be this way. There are ways to transform the food system and the lives of those who still face the fear and indignity of not knowing where their next meal will come from. Consumers can choose to buy food, whenever possible, from small farmers. Government, business and civil society can work together to improve market access for small farmer cooperatives. And everyone can donate to organisations like Heifer International South Africa who are working with communities to help them change their own situation through livestock, training, support and Passing on the Gift. For more information on what Heifer is doing to end food insecurity, please visit www.heifer.org.za.

This article originally appeared on the Heifer South Africa website.

Author

Heifer International

Heifer International is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization working with communities to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.