How every South African can address hunger by reducing food waste and loss
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By: Mary-Jane Morifi
The reality is that South Africa is neither food secure at a household nor at a national level. This according to the General Household Survey conducted by Statistics South Africa which reveals that 6.8 million people experienced hunger and 10.4 million people had inadequate access to food in 2017.
One of the government’s primary challenges – alongside that of the food industry and various food NGOs – is to ensure that South Africans have access to affordable, healthy foods. Food security is one of the first steps toward meeting our other national challenges.
There are three aspects to consider when we talk about food security or nutrition security. Firstly, whether there is availability of food. Secondly, whether people have access to nutritious food that forms part of a balanced diet which incorporates numerous food groups to meet daily requirements for a healthy body and mind. And finally, food affordability and whether people have the money to buy food or the ability to grow their own.
Of the approximate 14.2 million learners in South Africa, some nine million learners are fed by the National School Nutrition Programme each school day – at least that was the case before the pandemic hit. We also need to acknowledge various other government income support projects and grant programmes, which put much-needed money into the hands of those who need to feed their families.
If the government gives communities access to empty public spaces that would otherwise attract illegal dumping, this might increase their capacity to grow food where limited land is available. In this way, these spaces may be transformed into community-led food gardens for herbs, fruit and vegetables. The same could be done across public school, church and community grounds, as well as on the periphery of public sport grounds. This is also likely to enable a sense of community cooperation, promote skills development and enable people to eat more balanced diets that consist of readily available fresh produce to supplement government grants and feeding schemes.
As a nation, we can equally play our individual part in helping to address hunger by reducing food waste and loss, which is experienced throughout the food value chain between farm and fork – from farmers and manufacturers across logistics to retailers and consumers. Overall per capita food loss in sub-Saharan Africa is 120-170kg/year, according to estimates from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). While the average South African consumer throws away between 6-11kg of food each year, the findings go on to say.
Indeed, around a third of food in South Africa – particularly fresh produce such as fruit, vegetables and herbs – are lost, wasted or not consumed each year. As consumers, we often waste food due to overly generous portion sizes that we cannot finish or because we cook far more than we can eat before it goes off. We also often buy more fresh produce than we can consume in a given time and leave it in our fridge or pantry until it spoils.
A critical role for all players within the food industry should be to align their CSI initiatives to educate consumers about how to prevent food waste. Similarly, food manufacturers alongside government regulators should realign consumer perceptions around expiration dates.
Food that has not sold or been eaten before its “sell by” date is often discarded due to the misconception that it is no longer fit for human consumption. Consumers need to be re-educated that the “sell by” date is merely a guideline for retailers and differs from the “best before” date. Food collection charities can help to meet the nutritional needs of the vulnerable people in our population, while simultaneously reducing waste by collecting and redistributing food that is nearing its “sell by” date.
Another pertinent global issue that needs to be addressed at retail and consumer level is that of “ugly produce” – that does not meet retailer appearance standards because it is misshapen or contains small cosmetic defects – and therefore never makes it to retail shelves or is not bought by consumers. As a result, despite being edible, this food is often discarded by retailers even though there is nothing wrong with its taste or freshness.
South Africa requires a secondary food market where ugly produce is sold to consumers or the hospitality industry at significantly reduced prices, as a way to help address hunger and food waste. Similarly, this food can be repurposed, as is the case with Tiger Brands' partnership with Food Forward SA, a food redistribution organisation that makes jam out of “ugly produce” and surplus food to be distributed to the vulnerable in our society.
Despite a lack of culturally appropriate and socio-economically sensitive nutrition education – from households to primary school level and across one’s lifespan – numerous opportunities to enable a healthy food environment lie at the intersection of the public and private sectors.
Education about healthy cooking combinations that maximise nutrient intake are also essential, particularly among lower income groups. While a staple food source such as mielie meal might satiate hunger, it needs to be combined with fibrous foods, such as raw or cooked vegetables and protein, in order to enhance the nutritional value of the meal to constitute a balanced diet.
If Government incentivises healthy foods and helps to increase their availability and affordability, we could anticipate an increase in the overall health of the population. While the food industry should forge long-term partnerships with retailers to promote and prioritise healthy food choices, through their marketing and consumer education efforts.
All of these solutions require equal effort and cooperation from various players across the public and private sectors, as well as from consumers, so that South Africans are adequately fed and not merely satiated.
Morifi is a chief corporate affairs officer at Tiger Brands.
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