South Africa saw at least 10.3 million tonnes of food and beverages going to waste this year, despite increasing levels of food insecurity and extreme poverty.
This is according to the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM), which states that food insecurity prevalence has accelerated since May 2020 and continues to rise on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic and the July unrest.
But while nearly a quarter of South Africans go to bed hungry each night, the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF-SA) found that a third of all food in the country goes to waste – roughly 10 million tonnes of food annually.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research estimates that the figure has surged to 12.5 million tons per annum.
“The food waste of just over 12.3 million tonnes per annum is not only at the retailer level, [but] across the entire supply chain,” Pavitray Pillay, behaviour change specialist at WWF-SA tells Moneyweb.
‘Our food system is broken’
“It’s from the farmer all the way down to the consumer. The number is across what we would call the food system and the reason for that is that our food system is broken.
“The biggest portion of that waste unfortunately does happen at the farm level, or what we call ‘post-harvest’,” says Pillay.
“Why we have such big losses is complicated and it is usually things around whether food was damaged by the weather, chemical damaging or whether there were poor harvesting techniques used.”
Pillay says another contributing factor is demand forecasting, with farmers over-planting and exceeding retailer demand – which then leads to a surplus.
“Instead of diverting the surplus to charities and feeding schemes, they actually don’t do anything. They either let it go rotten on [the] farm or they just plough it back into their fields.”
Pillay acknowledges that farmers are sometimes unable to donate excess produce due to feasibility constraints: many charities don’t have their own transport to pick up the produce.
South Africa produces around 31 million tonnes of food every year and much of the wastage happens at production and retail level.
Type and proportion of food wasted in SA:
- Vegetables and fruits – 44%
- Grains – 26%
- Meat – 15%
- Oilseeds, tubers, and roots – 13%.
“At the moment we are wasting far more food than we should be,” says Pillay. “At a consumer level, we are sitting at about 18% waste per year – and that is a very big number.”
He says this is because of consumer habits.
“We overbuy, we bulk buy, and [we] do not share when we bulk buy.
“Very often consumers don’t read labels properly. [For instance], the use-by date is a recommendation – it does not mean at midnight on that date the food is going to go rotten. All it’s telling you is that, at that point, the food is optimal … you could probably still eat it for a week or two.
“The sell-by date [on the other hand] has nothing to do with consumers, it’s actually for retailers because they know how much stock they have and how much they need to move off the shelves.”
“As a nation, we cannot be so indifferent to human suffering,” says Navisha Bechan-Sewkuran, Mondelez International corporate and government affairs lead in sub-Sahara Africa.
“It is morally wrong to dispose of food while households and child hunger rates are so high. Retailers and other corporates must step in by, among others, donating excess food to the poorest rather than letting it go to waste.”
No-wastage policy at Shoprite
South Africa’s largest retailer, Shoprite Group, tells Moneyweb that its supermarkets across the country have a no-wastage policy.
In the last financial year, the group donated R138 million in surplus food and goods through registered non-profit organisations that can apply to collect surplus food from their nearest Shoprite, Checkers or Checkers Hyper stores.
“The group has strict internal controls and, through a collaborative approach, meticulous planning, stock rotation policies and monitoring of sales, the chain manages its stock levels to minimise food waste,” it says.
“On a daily basis however, there are unsold edible and usable grocery items which are fit for human consumption, and hence can be donated.”
‘War on Waste’ methodology
Bechan-Sewkuran says Mondelez has put numerous initiatives in place to curb the challenge of high levels of wastage. These include adopting a zero-waste mindset and empowering factory floor teams to run its ‘War on Waste methodology’ to identify, reduce and eliminate waste at the source.
According to the food company, this methodology has resulted in a 21% reduction in food waste thus far.
Mondelez also donates excess food to non-profit organisations and contributes towards animal feed. In addition, it composts its own waste, together with food waste from surrounding business and grocery distribution centres.
“Furthermore, we have added our signature [to the] Food Loss and Waste Agreement being facilitated by the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa [which was] launched in September last year,” says Bechan-Sewkuran.
“Under the agreement, we, along with other signatories, have collectively committed to reducing food waste in the country by 50% by 2030, through the adopting of food utilisation hierarchy,” adds Bechan-Sewkuran.
The hierarchy involves:
- Reducing the volume of surplus food generated;
- Feeding hungry people by donating extra food to food banks, soup kitchens and shelters; and
- Diverting food scraps to animal feed among others.
“The signing of the Food Loss and Waste Agreement and the adoption of the food utilisation hierarchy will help us not only continue to reduce food waste but also ensure that edible food is directed towards feeding the hungry instead of going to waste, and we would like to encourage other manufacturers and retailers to do [the] same to contribute towards the fight against poverty in South Africa.”
Listen to Nompu Siziba’s interview with Agbiz economist Wandile Sihlobo on food security (or read the transcript here):
Palesa Mofokeng is a Moneyweb intern.