Johannesburg – While food parcels delivered to people during the Covid-19 are doing a wealth of good to ensure they are not dying of hunger, more can be done to ensure they are nutritious.

Professor Hettie Schönfeldt, the director of the University of Pretoria’s African Research Universities Alliance Centre of Excellence for Food Security, wrote a paper with her colleagues on how government and nongovernmental organisations can improve the quality of the food parcels.

Schönfeldt and her team analysed the food parcels donated by the government in Gauteng and the Western Cape.

A pack of food parcels in Gauteng consists of starch-rich foods (10kg maize meal and 5kg rice); protein-source foods (1kg soya, two tins of baked beans; two tins of fish and 880g peanut butter); two litres of cooking oil, one packet of teabags; 2.5kg sugar, 1kg salt and three non-food items (one bottle of dish-washing liquid, one bottle of all-purpose cleaner and two bars of laundry washing soap).

In the Western Cape, Schönfeldt said, the food had more protein and different starch. Instead of maize meal, people were given samp, rice and cake flour.

“The Western Cape has similar amounts of baked beans, it also has a kilogram of peanut butter, instant yeast and two packets of soup.

“Their starches were different. They had more rice, cake flour and samp. They also had a kilogram of milk powder. They actually had a more balanced meal,” Schönfeldt  said.

The food pack in Gauteng was slightly cheaper at R350 Gauteng and cost about R500 in Cape Town.

She said what was missing from both packs was fruit and vegetables. Gauteng also didn’t have dairy.

In their paper, they state: “The lack of fresh produce causes a shocking 98% deficit in daily recommended allowance for vitamin C.

“Vitamin C protects cells from oxidative stress which reduces the occurrence of free radicals that can cause inflammation. Adequate vitamin C ensures that the immune system is able to fight off disease.

“Our analysis also suggests that there could be a reduction in the salt and sugar content of the food parcels. The country has legislation aimed at reducing the intake of both.”

To ensure that fruits and vegetables and other nutrients are added to the food packs,  Schönfeldt  said, the government needed to work more closely with NGOs who receive donations.

“We need to have more flexibility. If you receive a donation of potatoes this week,  then you can reduce the amount of starch you put in the packs.

“The food packs don’t have to be uniform every week. We need to work with NGO to make the baskets more nutritionally balanced. They can assist with fresh produce.

“Our markets are still working but we are not exporting at the moment. Oranges are in season so it is easy to get farmers to donate oranges. Apples are also in season,” Schönfeldt said.

She said the amount of food still being produced by farmers should not go to waste.

“We cannot afford to be the same as the US, where onions farmers are ploughing the onions back into the soil. And they are throwing the milk into the river.

“We cannot afford that. It is food waste and we have too many hungry people in South Africa,” Schönfeldt said.

She said in the absence of fresh fruits and vegetables, those who have their own vegetable patches should supplement the food to make it healthier.

“If you have your own vegetable garden, then it is ideal. You can supplement with spinach, greens. Most households in South Africa have onions in the house.

“Add onion and tomatoes or whatever you have in the house when cooking. Somewhere there will be a quarter of a cabbage.

“If you don’t have a garden, think about what cheap vegetables you can buy to  supplement the food. You have to boost your own immunity and that of your family,” she advised.

The Star

By Tebogo Monama