File picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – The way South Africans put food on their table has done more damage to the natural environment than any other human enterprise.

“It escalates biodiversity loss, deforestation, desertification and soil degradation, contributes to water scarcity and declining water quality, and is causing widespread damage to marine ecosystems,” said WWF senior manager for Policy and Futures Unit Tatjana von Bormann.

This followed the release of a World Wide Fund for Nature study, Agri-Food Systems: Facts and Futures, which highlights the challenges faced by South Africa and what lies ahead for the future, in terms of food systems.

Von Bormann, who authored the report, said: “Progress must be cross-sectoral and made on all levels. WWF advocates that the necessary transformative change will be driven by inclusive regenerative farming, optimal water use, responsible sourcing, reducing food waste and dietary shift.

“To turn this around, there needs to be a complete transformation of the system with efforts focused on those most affected by the nutritional deficit, namely women and children in low-income communities.”

Meanwhile, South African meat producers are confident they can meet demands that are expected to double by 2050. Von Bormann said to feed a growing global population, there will be a need to double food production by 2050.

“In South Africa, this means producing enough to feed as many as 73 million people. There will be a doubling of demand for certain products - meat and dairy included - by 2050. 

"How will we meet this? It can't just be about more production. We need a complete transformation to a system so that it nurtures human health and the environment.”

National Red Meat Producer's Organisation chairperson Koos van der Ryst said there were some challenges in the sector but they were confident that they can meet demands.

“There is opportunity for us to produce more meat. Producing enough for demand will be a challenge. One of the problems at this stage is that we came from a severe drought and it's not over yet. 

"We can't produce what we have to because we lost about 15% to 20% of our cows and have to build herds again, and that will take about five years.”

He said, currently, South Africans consume about 18kg of meat per person, each year, including chicken.

Cape Times