Food insecurity has increased in South Africa since the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to figures from late 2020, 9.34 million people (16% of the total population) faced the spectre of hunger, even though South Africa is an exporter of food. The sad truth is that an unacceptably high percentage of the food produced in the country goes to waste, says Brendon Jewaskiewitz, President of the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA).
“A prosperous and stable country is impossible if so many people don’t have enough food. In a developing country like South Africa, ensuring food security is ultimately a hot political issue,” he says. “Quite simply, we need to ensure that all South Africans have enough to eat, and that begins with reducing the amount of food that is wasted.”
Reducing food wastage is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3 is to halve global food waste per capita by 2050, and to reduce food losses along production and supply chains.
Clearly, reduction in food waste relates directly to SDG 2, Zero Hunger. South Africa’s food sector signed on to a voluntary food loss and waste agreement brokered by the Consumer Goods Council, Department of Trade, Industry & Competition, and the Department of the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, and which has the same goal as SDG 12.3.
Research published by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 2021 estimates that 10.3 million tonnes of food is lost or wasted annually in South Africa. This equates to 34.3% of local production, or 45% when one takes exports into account. The largest proportion (49%) is lost during processing and manufacture, with 8% lost during primary production and 19% lost during post-harvest handling and storage.
As much as 18% of total food waste occurs at the household and general consumer level. This means that almost one fifth of what we purchase ends up in the rubbish bin.
Mr Jewaskiewitz says that food wastage is serious not just because it reduces the amount of food available for consumption—it has severe environmental consequences as well. While some food waste is used as animal feed, the vast majority finds its way into landfills where it generates large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas some 22 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Decaying food and organic matter can also pollute ground and surface water reserves.
One must also take into account the pollution created along the whole food value chain, including fertiliser use, machinery and vehicles emitting gases, and packaging.
Reducing food waste will also mean that the world will not have to produce so much extra food to supply the needs of burgeoning populations, particularly in Africa and Asia. Increased agriculture will mean more loss of biodiversity and higher levels of emissions.
“Role players across the value chain are using IT and related technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict demand more accurately and improve production, handling and storage processes,” Mr Jewaskiewitz concludes. “Consumers can also play a significant part by shopping and planning better to minimise the food that they waste”.
“We need to change our mindset as a society to target food wastage as part of our broader drive to eliminate hunger and care for our planet.”
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