South African households' vulnerability to hunger has declined in the past 10 years from 23.8% in 2002 to 11.5% in 2011, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) reports in its just-released General Household Survey. And, the latest research published by the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) found that the number of South African adults at the lowest level of living standards fell from 11% in 2001 to 1% in 2011. The number of people with the highest living standards also improved in the 10 year period, rising from 5% to 6%.
The Stats SA report looks at South African households' access to food and their participation in agricultural production. It found that the figure of hunger vulnerability was still higher than the 10.5% recorded in 2007 before the advent of the global financial crisis.
"Despite large declines in the vulnerability to hunger of South African households over the past decade, from 23.8% in 2002 to 11.5% in 2011, a large percentage of households (21.1%) continue to experience difficulty in accessing food," the report stated.
It also notes that "many households live in a state of chronic poverty and find it difficult to deal with shocks such as unemployment and natural disasters."
Inadequate access to food is particularly high in the North West Province at 32.9% and Northern Cape at 29.7%. Households in Limpopo reported better access to food than any other province.
The report confirmed that poor households that receive social grants are less likely to experience inadequate access to food.
Households in urban areas that are experiencing inadequate access to food are more likely to participate in agriculture than those with adequate access, the survey showed.
"Less than a quarter of households in South Africa are involved in agriculture, including agriculture as a hobby.
"Nationally, more than 84% of households that are engaged in agriculture do so to produce extra food for the household while only 4.2% use agriculture to produce the majority of their food."
The report showed that 62.6% of households receive salaries or wages.
It also showed that 56.6% receive salaries and wages as the main source of income while 22.3% list social grants as the main source.
"Social grants are the main source of income for 37.9% of households in Eastern Cape and 33.8% of households in Limpopo," the report states.
Although South Africa has largely maintained its ability to meet national food requirements and to provide food in sufficient quantities and of appropriate quality to consumers, large-scale inequality and poverty mean that many households do not enjoy food security or adequate access to food.
Living standards improve
The SAIRR calculated their figures using Living Standard Measures (LSMs), a marketing tool introduced by the South African Advertising Research Foundation.
"People are grouped according to objective criteria, such as whether they are urbanised, own motor vehicles or major appliances, or have running water or a flush toilet in or outside the house," SAIRR researcher Georgina Alexander, said in a statement.
"Income is not used to determine a person’s LSM. The lowest or poorest category is LSM 1and LSM 10 the highest."
According to the research, the greatest proportion of adults (14.3%) were classified as being in LSM 3 in 2001. In 2011 the proportion of people in LSM 3 had dropped to 6.1%. The greatest proportion of adults (22.4%) were grouped in LSM 6.
"Over the last decade there has been a general migration from the bottom three (1- 3) to the middle four (4-7) LSMs, showing a general increase in living standards," Alexander said.
"The improvement can be attributed in part to the increase in the number of people receiving social payments, such as old-age pensions and the child support grant." For instance, the number of recipients of the child grant increased by 1 200% between 2001 and 2011.
"In 2001 some 8% of South Africans were beneficiaries of grants. This proportion increased to 29% in 2010/11 and accounted for 10% of government expenditure," she said.