More than 200 000 South Africans are being fed daily with surplus food that would have otherwise ended up on landfills. FoodForward SA, a non-profit organisation, is championing this initiative to address food insecurity in the country.
Agricultural economist Hamlet Hlomendlini explains that “About 30% of food produced in Mzansi is lost or wasted”, and ends up on landfills. The losses comprise 44% fruit and vegetables, 26% grains, 15% meat, and 13% roots, tubers and oilseeds.
“This means that more than enough is being produced to feed our entire nation, but because of how logistics are set up and how market dynamics work, the food never reaches those who need it the most,” FoodForward SA’s managing director, Andy Du Plessis says.
FoodForward SA’s mission is to safely secure quality surplus food from farmers, retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers. This food is then distributed to those who need it. It is a model called “food-banking”.
“We want to see a South Africa without hunger.” – Andy Du Plessis.
The organisation was established in 2009 and currently has 530 beneficiary organisations, which include early childhood development centres, youth centres, women’s empowerment groups and care centres throughout South Africa. They operate in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Kwazulu-Natal, North West, and the Free State. Free State and Limpopo provinces. Collectively, these beneficiaries serve about 201 150 people daily, with some organisations serving two or three meals a day.
Proud of the fact that they are celebrating their 10-year anniversary, Du Plessis says the organisation has evolved quite radically over this period. “We launched a digital technology platform called ‘FoodShare’, which connects beneficiary organisations to retail stores within a five-kilometre radius.”
He further explains that on a predetermined basis, the surplus food is collected by the recipient organisation. “The collection information is sent to us via USSD [Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, a real-time information feed using mobile phone infrastructure]. No smart phones are required and there are no cost implications to the beneficiary organisation,” Du Plessis adds.
This is quite significant, because previously FoodForward SA would send their own trucks to collect food from their partners and sponsors and deliver this to recipient organisations.
“With this new technology, beneficiaries have greater access to food, and it allows us to reach remote areas in the country. Giving equal access to everyone.”
The foodbanking model allows beneficiary organisations to save between R5000 and R15 000 per month on general groceries like maize meal, pasta and rice. FoodForward SA also receives toiletries and hygiene items from their partners, which is also much needed.
Thozama Mtsabe, office manager of Rebuilding and Life Skills Training Centre in Gugulethu, says FoodForward SA’s continued support means a lot to them.
“We work with young offenders out on parole and youth at risk, with the aim of finding creative, sustainable ways to reintegrate these youth into mainstream society. It is nice to provide them with breakfast and lunch,” Mtsabe says.
Two kilometres away, in Nyanga, is another appreciative beneficiary, Phakama Community Health, managed by Mabato Teiling.
Teiling says that, with FoodForward SA’s assistance, the NGO has managed to cut down on costs. “We feed about 300 unemployed people in our community on a daily basis and have an additional feeding program for children between five months and five years old.”
Nolubabalo Nditha, the manager of Zanokhanyo Children’s Safety Home, a safety house for abused and orphaned children, echoes the same sentiments. “Because we are not subsidised by government, FoodForward SA’s support has really helped us a lot.”
Du Plessis says that although there is enough food for everybody in South Africa, we still have a challenge of ensuring that vulnerable people have access to a sufficient variety of nutritious food.
To address this issue, FoodForward SA recently rolled out a new initiate called “Second Harvest” in which they collect surplus food directly from farmers and growers.
The programme was launched in January 2018 after the NGO realised that while working to recover and redistribute edible surplus food, they only explored the retail and wholesale sectors. They did not have representation in the agriculture sector.
“We then said to farmers that, while they’re harvesting, we’ll collect those surpluses at no charge to them.” He explains that because these are fresh fruits and vegetables straight from the farm, they are able to provide beneficiary organisations with even nutritious meals.
Their strategies have proven to be very cost effective because with R0.90c they are able to facilitate the provision of one meal that has a retail value of R11.00. “It gives our entire team at FoodForward SA huge amounts of pleasure being involved in a good cause,” Du Plessis says.
To help them create awareness about food poverty in South Africa, they have partnered with South African celebrities.
“Our ambassadors – Khabonina Qubeka, Jenny Morris, Sarah Graham, Lucia Mthiyane, Ishay Govender, Bryan Habana and Michael Mol help us amplify the message of food hunger and what FoodForward SA is able to do about it,” Du Plessis says.
Isidingo star Qubeka says nourishment is as important for any human being as breathing and the FoodForward SA initiative made her jaw drop. “This is a selfless project that promotes love and care. It makes us stop the ‘us’ and ‘them’ talk and moves us straight to ‘we’-minded conversations. I love it! I just can’t wait for us to do even more,” she says.