The Dullah Omar Institute Petitions Chapter 9 Institution on Food Insecurity in Tertiary Institutions

The Dullah Omar Institute today submitted a petition to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on the state of food insecurity in South African tertiary institutions. This petition was prompted by the recognition of an urgent need for intervention in South African tertiary institutions, related to food and nutrition (in) security.

As a university based institute and in response to these concerns, the DOI formally constituted a project in 2017- the Access to Food for Students Project- funded by the Centre of Excellence in Food Security (DST-NRF CoE), to probe and proffer policy solutions to the problem of food insecurity in tertiary institutions nationwide, from a human rights based approach. This project has since 2017, amongst other outputs, held a series of meetings with relevant stakeholders in the South African food security and education sectors.

Many of the vulnerable groups which are impacted by a high burden of poverty and consequently food insecurity in South Africa, have over the years received attention from the government, resulting in many interventionist schemes to guarantee their right  to food. These include for instance, social grants for children, persons with disabilities and the elderly, as well as school meals for primary and high school students. Unfortunately, one of such groups has hitherto received little or no attention, that is, students in South African tertiary institutions.

Many argue that the National Students Financial Aid Schemes (NSFAS) allocation to disadvantaged students in tertiary institutions should cater to their food security needs. Unfortunately, the current structuring of financial aid has proven to prioritise other needs including tuition, accommodation, and study materials (books), leaving subsistence to be catered for by whatever is left over. Inefficiency and poor coordination on the part of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) resorting in long delays with disbursement of funds and the inadequacy of disbursed amounts have further compounded the situation. High cost of living coupled with inflation, VAT increase and transportation costs all have implications for food insecurity in tertiary institutions. 

In the long run, this has far reaching implications on dropout rates and overall academic performance of students. Food insecurity problems among students is a systemic issue that requires approaches which take care of the root causes such as poverty and social inequality amongst others. Though immediate interventions are vital, there is a need for the development of long term solutions which considers the root causes with the cooperation of all relevant stakeholders.

Constitutionally, there remains an obligation on the government to realise the right to food, and as a minimum core, the freedom from hunger, for every person. It goes without saying that this constitutional obligation extends to students in tertiary institutions. However, with the absence of an enabling legislation to grant constitutional fulfilment to this right, as well as a responsible department, it becomes problematic trying to decipher which of the numerous government structures should be held accountable.

The Petition of the DOI demanded that the SAHRC:

  1. Conducts an urgent nationwide inquiry into the state of food and nutrition security and the constitutional fulfilment of the right to food of students within tertiary institutions;
  2. Reports timeously the findings of such inquiry to Parliament, making concrete recommendations on ways the different government institutions and departments,  can address this issue, both in the short-term and long-term; and
  3. Makes concrete legislative and policy recommendations to Parliament to ensure the fulfilment of the right to food of students within tertiary institutions.
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