As South Africa has grown more urban, so have poverty and hunger migrated to its cities. Sixty percent of South Africa's population is now urbanised, and this figure is projected to reach 80 percent by 2050. In Cape Town, a 2011 survey found that over 80 percent of households were either moderately or severely food insecure in sampled low income neighbourhoods. In addition to overall caloric food insecurity, households were found to have limited dietary diversity.
The government of South Africa sees increasing penetration of supermarkets into poorer neighbourhoods as a way to encourage economic development and increase access to food. One group sees "food deserts," or the lack of food retailers in poorer neighbourhoods, as the primary driver of hunger and malnutrition in urban areas. Another group views the growing spread of large supermarkets in cities of the Global South with suspicion. Their primary concern is that large food retailers will displace smaller, traditional shops that better cater to the needs of the poor.
The problem is that the supermarket model, even if it is modified, may never really be able to reach the poorest of the poor. Such households often have irregular cash flows, meaning that they must purchase food in small quantities or buy items on credit when there is no money to be had. While small shops can meet such demands, supermarkets cannot. Furthermore, small shops were not charging more for the food they sold than the big retailers even though the items they sold came in much smaller quantities.
This market-oriented solution to improving urban food access is inherently limited because it just cannot meet the needs of the poorest of the poor. The real solution to South Africa's urban food insecurity problem is poverty alleviation.