A third of the food produced in SA goes to waste

Some 10 million tonnes of food ends up as waste in South Africa, which is about a third of the 31 million tonnes produced annually in the country, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has said. 

Of this wasted food, about 90% is disposed of to landfills, where it leads to the production of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide.

Cutting down on food waste will not only decrease carbon emissions but significantly turn around the food insecurity felt by many South Africans, the WWf said.

10x20x30 Food Waste Reduction Initiative

Pick n Pay (PnP), one of the largest supermarket chain stores in South Africa, has asked 20 of its biggest suppliers to join the company in its global food waste reduction initiative, 10x20x30.

“This is a monumental unnecessary waste which cannot be allowed to continue,” said Gareth Ackerman, PnP chairman and co-chair of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, “especially as there are about 14 million South Africans going to bed hungry every night.”

The project is backed by 10 of the world’s largest food retailers and manufacturers, and will focus on in-store and supply chain food loss and waste.

As the demand for food continues to increase around the world, agricultural-based industries are under increasing pressure to maximise yields. At the same time, growers struggle to adapt to climate change, adopt sustainable and innovative growing practices and mitigate environmental impact.

Moral obligation towards the planet and people

“The 10x20x30 initiative aligns us all on the simple approach to Target-Measure-Act,” said Stephanie Tack, Global Sustainability Manager for McCain Foods, an international purveyor of frozen potato and appetiser products,

“While we have a moral obligation towards the planet and people to accelerate action on food waste reduction, it is also absolutely in the interest of our businesses. It is a global challenge which we cannot solve alone, partnerships and collaborative action  are of key importance.”

Dr Berhard Rey, head of Cooperation of the EU delegation to South Africa said about 30 percent of food production worldwide was wasted and there were about 820 million undernourished people worldwide.

He said as part of the partnership between the EU and the South African Government, there was a voluntary commitment to reduce losses when crops fail and food wastage as part of a “Farm to Fork” initiative.

During a recent “Food waste in South Africa” seminar led by the EU delegation in South Africa, speakers painted a grim picture of millions of South Africans going to bed hungry at night with 30 percent of households threatened by food insecurity, 30 percent facing hunger; and 13 million children living in poverty.

Wider ramifications

Apart from the food waste meaning that food which could help beat the hunger often ended up in landfills or was lost in various parts of the production chain, Prof Suzan Oelofse, principle economics and waste research at the CSIR, said there were wider ramifications.

This included higher food prices, climate change through excessive greenhouse gas emissions; the fruitless use of agricultural land, wasted fertilizer and pesticides and the waste of scarce resources such as water and electricity.

She said another aspect which had to be taken into account was the wasted materials used in packaging, notably plastics.

While there were pros to using packaging – such as protecting food from damage, easing distribution, extending shelf life and informing and educating costumers – there were also disadvantages which increased the chances of plastic adding to food waste and becoming an environmental concern.

Rising food costs

Food costs worldwide rose for a fourth straight month in September, led by vegetable oils and cereals such as wheat and maize, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

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Rising living costs have sparked unrest among people already blighted by unemployment and illness. 

Authorities imposed a 16-hour curfew in part of Sudan, where bread and vegetable prices drove annual inflation to 212% in September, after protesters blocked major roads. 

In Pakistan, thousands of civil servants descended on the capital to demand a pay rise to compensate for rising prices.

Since households in poorer countries spend a bigger share of their budgets on feeding themselves, food has a heavier weighting in their inflation indexes. 

The jump in food costs has helped push some major emerging market central banks to pause or slow interest rate cuts, blunting the main policy tool they have to fight the slump.

Also on thesouthafrican.com:World Food Day 2020 and the state of food accessibility in South Africa

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