War should be waged against food waste

War should be waged against food waste

Food insecurity has increased in South Africa since the Covid-19 pandemic. According to figures from late 2020, 9,34 million people (16% of the total population) faced the spectre of hunger, even though South Africa is a food exporter.

The sad truth is that an unacceptably high percentage of the food produced in the country goes to waste, says Brendon Jewaskiewitz, president of the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa.

“A prosperous and stable country is impossible if so many people don’t have enough food. In a developing country like South Africa, ensuring food security is ultimately a hot political issue,” he says. “Quite simply, we need to ensure that all South Africans have enough to eat, and that begins with reducing the amount of food that is wasted.”

Research published by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 2021 estimates that 10,3 million tonnes of food is lost or wasted annually in South Africa. This equates to 34,3% of local production, or 45% when one takes exports into account. The largest proportion (49%) is lost during processing and manufacture, with 8% lost during primary production and 19% lost during post-harvest handling and storage.

As much as 18% of total food waste occurs at the household and general consumer level. This means that almost one fifth of what we purchase ends up in the rubbish bin.

Jewaskiewitz says that food wastage is serious, not just because it reduces the amount of food available for consumption – it has severe environmental consequences as well. While some food waste is used as animal feed, the vast majority finds its way into landfills where it generates large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas some 22 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Decaying food and organic matter can also pollute ground and surface water reserves.

One must also take into account the pollution created along the whole food value chain, including fertiliser use, machinery and vehicles emitting gases, and packaging.

Reducing food waste will also mean that the world will not have to produce so much extra food to supply the needs of burgeoning populations, particularly in Africa and Asia. Increased agriculture will mean reduced biodiversity and higher levels of emissions.

“Role players across the value chain are using IT and related technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict demand more accurately and improve production, handling, and storage processes,” Jewaskiewitz points out. “Consumers can also play a significant part by shopping and planning better to minimise the food that they waste.

“We need to change our mindset as a society to target food wastage as part of our broader drive to eliminate hunger, and care for our planet.”

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