FROM 10 million to more than 12 million tons of food in South Africa is lost or goes to waste every year - with a range of adverse implications on the country and its people.
“This is a monumental unnecessary waste which cannot be allowed to continue,” said Gareth Ackerman, 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.”
Speaking at a local media briefing hosted virtually as part of a unique 24-hour Day of Climate Action yesterday, he said this was a situation which the country must deal with urgently.
The event under the theme “Food waste in South Africa”, led by the EU delegation in Pretoria, formed part of a joint initiative of the World Press Clubs Alliance for Climate - of which the local National Press Club is a member.
The briefing heard how the EU, the Consumer Goods Council, the departments of Trade, Industry and Competition, Environment Forestry and Fishing, and Social Development were working together to cut back on losses and food waste as part of a Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN initiative to see the amounts lost reduced by half by 2030.
Dr Berhard Rey, head of Cooperation of the EU delegation to South Africa said worldwide about 30 percent of food production 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.
Ackerman said since the signing of the agreement in September, 13 companies had already pledged their support.
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.
They said about 31 million tons of food was either produced locally or imported, and between 30 to 50 percent - about 10 million to 12.6 million tons of food - was lost or wasted every year.
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.
Mondli Mbhele, a deputy director at the Department of Social Development, said it was not acceptable that there was hunger and poverty in South Africa in the face of food waste and food surpluses which were not used to feed people, but often ended up being dumped instead.
He said better use should be made of surplus food, preserving or turning it into other products and using such surpluses to create sustainable livelihoods so that no one went to bed hungry.
The value of the food lost or wasted is put at R60-billion or 2% of SA’s GDP.
Dr Riina Kionke, ambassador of the EU to South Africa, said the EU-South African Strategic Partnership provided a perfect platform for the two countries to address global challenges. This was particularly relevant in the case of climate change, she said.
Kionka said the recently launched multi-sectoral agreement on managing food waste in South Africa was an important step in the fight against climate change and the global food crisis.
Press clubs from eight African countries joined counterparts at 120 press clubs across the world in hosting such media conferences. All fields of activity related to climate and ecological transition were also represented at events dedicated to sharing solutions and best practices at a global level.
The combined events set a record for the longest press conference on positive climate actions and innovations held to date.