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The United Nations has chosen the 2015 World Food Day theme as ‘Social Protection and Agriculture’. Social protection in the form of outside assistance to those families living in poverty allows households to survive economic, social and environmental shocks which they would not have been able to survive otherwise.

Governments and civil society create policies and programmes which provide these social protections in the form of hand-outs, cash transfers or in-kind contributions which allow families to carry out tasks they would not have been able to do before, such as taking their sick family members to the clinic, sending their children to school to receive an education and/or purchasing agricultural inputs to expand their food producing enterprises.

The FAO states, “In the absence of social protection, poor households, which are already constrained by limited access to resources and services, are at constant risk of hunger and poverty, especially when faced with a crisis or shock of any nature.” Furthermore, “Social protection is critical in such cases because, the economic or in-kind support it provides prevents people from hunger in the short term.”[1]

However, whilst government social protection programmes and policies may assist households suffering from hunger in the short term, actions are required to ensure households across South Africa are able to protect themselves from food insecurity and poverty sustainably in the long term. Heifer International South Africa (Heifer) is able to provide this assistance to poverty stricken households in the long term. Heifer provides households with trainings, skills, on-going support and certain inputs in an effort to enable rural households to be able to support themselves and their communities sustainably.

By providing these families with the necessary tools and knowledge to be able to successfully start their own smallholder farming enterprises in both livestock and vegetable production, Heifer is enabling these families to withstand any future social and economic shocks that may occur. Furthermore, Heifer puts in place certain programmes which allow the communities as a whole to withstand any future risks. Heifer’s Community Animal Health Worker Programme, beyond creating more employment opportunities, enables households to have constant and reliable access to veterinary services and technical advice which would otherwise not exist. This decreases risk of livestock diseases and death and increases livestock production effectively creating more wealth in the community and an increased ability to withstand negative shocks.

The encouragement by Heifer staff for communities to create group savings accounts also increases the community’s social protection through their ability to withstand social, economic and environmental shocks. Group savings create a reserve of funds available to the community to use in any emergency whether to replace livestock after a disease outbreak or to expand their agricultural enterprises encouraging growth and increased household income.

Therefore, celebrate this World Food Day on October 16th by assisting Heifer in providing South African communities with the long term social protection to withstand any future shocks - effectively creating a resilient rural society. To learn more about our work, please visit our website at www.heifer.org.za.