Food for Action

Dietary diversity of most of the people living in rural towns in South Africa is very low. Through support and inclusion of local smallholder farmers, the SPAR Rural Hub project aims to increase the availability of affordable vegetables and fruits at rural SPAR stores in low-income, rural areas. Insights from surveys among women that shop at SPAR stores and action research by school children among rural households, show why access to affordable fruits and vegetables is so important.

Insights on dietary behaviours among SPAR store customers and rural households in certain villages in north-eastern South Africa

In South Africa, under- and over-nutrition co-exist, and the country suffers a considerable burden from non-communicable diseases. Most South Africans rely on a cereal-based diet, with little variety. Dietary diversity is inadequate among just over half of the country’s rural population (DDS < 4 on 9 food groups scale; Shisana et al., 2013). Fruit and vegetables, together with dairy, are the least consumed food groups in the South African adult population (Mchiza et al., 2015). Intake of vitamin A-rich fruit and vegetables are particularly low (Labadarios et al., 2011).  

SPAR Rural Hub

The SPAR Rural Hub project, as part of the Amsterdam Initiative against Malnutrition (AIM), tries to increase sourcing by SPAR stores from local, emerging farmers. These farmers are trained and mentored so that they comply with Local Good Agricultural Practices. SPAR has set up fresh assembly points, or pack house facilities, through which farmers receive support and can supply to the surrounding SPAR stores or other buyers. Because of increased supply of fresh produce and cost savings due to shortening the value chain, rural households will ultimately gain improved access to vegetables and fruits. In order to promote the local fresh produce and its benefits to health and purse, SPAR will initiate a marketing and nutrition campaign.

Baseline study
As part of an ongoing impact study, Wageningen University and Research together with the South African Medical Research Council, assessed nutrition knowledge, attitudes and practices in two rural towns within the Hub target area in Mpumalanga (Matsulu and Acornhoek) and one rural town outside the target area in Limpopo (Moratiwa). Women shopping at the SPAR stores, one in each town, were selected if they were 18–49 years old, lived within a radius of 30 km of the SPAR store, and had a household Living Standard Measure score of 4 or lower. By means of a questionnaire on a tablet in ODK/Kobo, which was offered in four different languages, 200 women per store were interviewed at a central site in their community. The interviews took place in March 2017 at the end of the summer.

Action research school children

In addition to the SPAR customer baseline survey, just over 200 school children of 4 secondary schools collected information on food sources and preferences among 250 households in their own neighbourhoods in Acornhoek. Learners from a more affluent local school translated the questionnaire into a local language. Wits University Rural Facility in Acornhoek facilitated the school children survey, which was called the Food for Action initiative. Students from Wits in Johannesburg and Dartmouth University in the US assisted the school children in conducting the interviews and captured the filled out questionnaires. The SPAR store provided health bars to the participating learners.

Findings on SPAR customers

The findings from the surveys largely confirm previous studies on DDS in South Africa but also provide important additional insights. First of all, it appeared that a large majority of the SPAR customers in the three towns scored LSM 4 or lower, i.e. they belong to severely disadvantaged households. Of all households, 90% had an income of R3200 per month or lower and the average number of household members was five. The majority of the 600 female SPAR customers that were interviewed was unemployed and looking for work. Their households relied on child support  (81%) and old age (14%) grants as a source of income. Nearly half of the respondents reported that their households did not have enough money for basic goods such as food and clothes. The fact that many rural households do not have sufficient income for food purchases is highlighted by the PACSA Minimum Nutritional Food Basket, which currently costs R2,979 for a household of 5 members.  

Inadequate dietary diversity

The mean dietary diversity score (DDS), based on ten food groups, was 2.8, with only 11% of the women having a DDS of 5 or above. The groups cereals, roots and tubers group and meat, poultry and fish were the only two groups which were consumed by at least 50% of the women. In total, one third of them had not consumed any fruits or vegetables on the day of recall. For those who did consume fruit or vegetables, the intake volume was limited (140gr). Only apples, bananas, cabbages and green leafy vegetables were being eaten by at least 5% of the respondents. 

Living in Moratiwa, Acornhoek or Matsulu

Where one lives effects ones dietary diversity. Women living in Matsulu were much more likely to have a DDS > 3 compared to women living in Moratiwa or Acornhoek.

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Larger distance to SPAR store

The supermarket is for most households the main source of foods, including fresh vegetables and fruit. The distance to the closest SPAR store substantially differs between towns and significantly affects DDS. Women living closer to the SPAR store tend to have higher DDS compared to women living further away. The chance of having a higher DDS is lower when a respondent lives more than 11 kilometres away from the closest SPAR store. This partly explains the differences in DDS between towns since in Moratiwa distances are the largest, followed by Acornhoek and lastly by Matsulu. 

ood sources used 'almost always' or 'often'



Mchiza ZJ, Steyn NP, Hill J, Kruger A, Schönfeldt H, Nel J, Wentzel-Viljoen E. (2015). A review of dietary surveys in the adult South African population from 2000 to 2015. Nutrients 7:8227–8250.

Labadarios D, Steyn NP, Nel J. (2011). How diverse is the diet of adult South Africans? Nutrition Journal 10:33.

Shisana O., Labadarios D., Rehle T., Simbayi L., Zuma K., Dhansay A., Reddy P., Parker W., Hoosain E., Naidoo P., et al. South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES-1) HSRC Press; Cape Town, South Africa: 2013.

Smith J., Abrahams M., Chiya N., (2017) 2017 PACSA Food Price Barometer Annual Report.