Role players in the agriculture sector are prodding the government to rethink the labelling of perfectly nutritious and edible surplus food as “food waste”. Tonnes of food is wasted like this every day, which is unacceptable, they argue, especially in a country that is rife with poverty and hunger.
Industry leaders are advocating to find alternative ways to process the food so that it is not wasted. Food waste includes both food losses, which occur at the production, post-harvest and processing stages; and food waste, which arises at the retail and consumption stages.
The national head of agriculture at Nedbank, John Hudson, says one-third of all food produced is wasted. Yet that wasted food could feed the world’s malnourished four times over.
Hudson says that a large proportion of wasted food is actually edible surplus food. That means that it is still perfectly safe for human consumption but is not sold, either because it has reached its “sell by” or “best before” date, or has failed to meet aesthetic specifications.
Hudson says surplus food can reduce hunger. “Surplus food is generated along the entire food value chain, and much of it ends up as waste. But if it is diverted in time, a sizeable portion of this food could instead be directed for human consumption, helping to alleviate hunger while creating benefits for the generating firms,” he argues.
But to achieve this, the surplus food must be separated from the rest at the point where it is considered not fit for sale via traditional channels and redistributed before it deteriorates.
“For this to happen surplus food needs to be reframed so it is viewed as edible food for human consumption, rather than animal food, an energy source, compost or food waste,” Hudson says.
There must be another way
Rossouw Cillié, owner and managing director of Laastedrif Boerdery in Ceres believes that in order to eradicate food wastage the food must be modified in a way that will make it appealing to consumers.
“There is a lot of food in production that is considered food waste because it doesn’t meet the requirements, so the consumer doesn’t want to buy it,” he says. Cillié suggests that “the food must be processed in a certain way so that the consumer may want to buy it or eat it.”
Another alternative solution is for the surplus food to be donated to the poor like his organisation, Laastedrif Boerdery, has been doing for the past couple of years, he says.
Diverting surplus food helps fight climate change
Hudson points out that food waste and climate change go hand in hand. He says that not only do we have a moral obligation to divert surplus food to the hungry, but reducing food waste is also an effective solution for fighting climate change.
Redirecting surplus food avoids the loss of energy, water and financial capital embedded in wasted food, and the greenhouse gases resulting from its decomposition at landfills. In fact, for every ton of food recovered, four tons of greenhouse gas emissions are saved, says Hudson.
“Fortunately, the surplus food debate is gaining ground and legislation and incentives are emerging in other countries to stimulate redistribution. Locally, there are many examples of companies – particularly retailers – diverting surplus food to organisations that distribute to the hungry. But this needs to be scaled up significantly if we hope to provide adequate nutrition to our most vulnerable.”
Food waste from farm to fork: Second Harvest programme
Hudson argues that with 26% of food wastage coming from farms, it seems obvious that this is where much of the opportunity lies. But, understandably, farmers do not have the time or resources to undertake surplus food redistribution themselves, particularly when they are in harvest season. So, convenience and ease of dispensing is a key driver for them.
Perhaps the biggest game changer in the food security and surplus food debate, then, is the emergence of surplus food organisations – the largest of which is FoodForward SA. Established in 2009 to address the widespread hunger in the country, FoodForward SA has distributed over 5 000 tonnes of food, equating to 20 million meals, through their network of 1 005 registered beneficiary organisations. Collectively, these organisations reach 450 000 vulnerable people daily, he says.