Cape Town – While the country wastes 10.3 million tons of food per year, a staggering 10 million adults and 2.8 million children experienced hunger in South Africa in 2021.
This is according to University of Stellenbosch Business School senior lecturer in strategy and sustainability, Dr Jako Volschenk.
The world population has doubled in the past 50 years to 7.9 billion. It is estimated that global food production will need to increase by 70% to feed a projected world population of 9.7 billion by 2050.
In addition to the growth in population, people are also living longer.
“World Bank data indicates that life expectancy in South Africa has increased from 53 to 64 years over the last 50 years, which implies a further 20% increase in the South African population and people needing food,” Volschenk said.
What can be done to solve the hunger crisis?
Increasing vegetarian or flexitarian diets, reducing and re-purposing food waste, and using insects as an alternative protein source are some of the ways to reduce the impact of food production on climate change and biodiversity, said Volschenk.
“There is reason to cut out all animal products, but this leads to sub-optimal use of land, since not all agricultural land is suitable for crop-growing. In dry parts of the world like the Karoo, for example, cultivated croplands can’t be sustained in the absence of water but can still sustain grazing animals.
“However, in evaluating different types of diets, there is an optimal level of meat consumption in terms of the carrying capacity of land, and humanity is far beyond that,” he said.
Food waste must also urgently be reduced.
“South Africa’s 10.3 million tons of food waste is equivalent to more than a third of local food production. Wasted food is unacceptable given the levels of hunger in our country. And it also represents a loss of the water and energy resources used in its production, as well as food sent to landfill generating methane gases that contribute to global warming.”
“We need to do better at wasting less and getting food to people who need it,” Dr Volschenk said.
Thirdly, an innovation that could assist in “closing the loop between food waste and protein”, is the use of insects such as the black soldier fly, he said.
Such insects feed on food waste, reducing the production of methane from decomposing food, and their larvae become a source of chicken and pig feed in agriculture, as well as being used in pet food.
“This could one day be used for human food too. Insects are a far more environmentally-friendly source of protein, and convert waste into protein in the most efficient manner.”
Dr Volschenk said population growth was the biggest driver of the need for food, in turn driving global warming and other environmental problems.
“Ultimately, humanity will have to consider voluntary population control measures, but this is unlikely to happen and the world’s population is unlikely to reduce substantially in the near future. This means that we need to shift our diets away from meat, and especially from meat that is inefficient in its feed conversion and land use.
“We need to be much more mindful of what we eat, where it comes from, how it is produced, and be much more conscious of avoiding food waste,” he said.