WHO multicountry study on improving household food and nutrition security for the vulnerable: South Africa
A qualitative study on food security and caring patterns of vulnerable young children in South Africa
The International Conference on Nutrition (Rome, 1992) defined food security in its most basic form as "physical, social and economic access by all people at all times to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life". Thus, food insecurity exists when people lack access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food and are not consuming the food required for normal growth and development, and an active and healthy life. This may be, within the household, the result of food unavailability, insufficient purchasing power, inappropriate distribution or inadequate utilization. The major causes of poor nutritional status are food insecurity, poor health and sanitary conditions, and inappropriate social and care environment.
Given the multiple chronic, transitory, and short-and long-term dimensions of food and nutrition insecurity and the varying nature of intrahousehold inequalities, it is difficult to know for certain how many food- and nutrition-insecure households or individuals there are. In the absence of a universally applicable indicator and a common understanding of household dynamics and influences, it is difficult to design or evaluate policies and programmes intended to address household food and nutrition security, or to examine the impact of non-household food and nutrition security policies or programme activities on household food and nutrition security.
To shed light on these issues, in 1995 the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development began a multicountry study on improving household food and nutrition security for the vulnerable in six countries - China, Egypt, Ghana, Indonesia, Myanmar and South Africa. The aim is to provide guidance for policy-makers to ensure that household dynamics and cultural, socioeconomic and behavioural considerations are routinely included in development policies and programmes to improve household food and nutrition security for the vulnerable.
This document outlines the qualitative findings generated by focus-group meetings that were first part of the study in South Africa and that addressed, in particular, that behaviours and household dynamics related to food procurement and consumption, care giving, and infant young child feeding practices. Study results, which provide useful information on how rights, responsibilities, and resources are allocated within a household, should be a particular interest to nutritionists, nutritional epidemiologists, public health specialists, social scientists, development workers and policy-makers. Together with the larger quantitative component, which is under preparation, the study will also serve as a basis for formulating guiding principles for developing and implementing effective national food and nutrition policies and programmes.