Food losses and waste are global challenges that have profound economic, environmental and social consequences. In South Africa, these issues are receiving heightened attention and the government is taking proactive steps to address them.
South Africa is a signatory to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG12 seeks to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. SDG 12.3 calls for cutting in half per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level and reducing food losses along production and supply chains (including post-harvest losses) by 2030.
South Africa’s proposed food losses and waste strategy is a comprehensive plan which is one of the key interventions of the National Waste Management Strategy. Below we explore the significance and implications of this strategy.
The food waste challenge
The scale of food losses and waste in South Africa is staggering. It is estimated that up to 31% of the country's food production is lost or wasted each year, while millions of South Africans go hungry. This is not just a moral dilemma, it is an environmental and economic crisis. Food losses and waste occur at various stages of the food supply chain, from production and distribution to consumption and disposal. This challenge is particularly critical because of widespread food insecurity and the environmental impact of wasted resources.
Key aspects of the proposed food losses and waste strategy
- Prevention and reduction: the strategy prioritises the prevention and reduction of food losses and waste at all stages of the supply chain. This includes supporting sustainable agricultural practices, improved storage facilities and efficient distribution systems. Reducing food loss and waste at the source, from farm to fork, is both cost-effective and environmentally responsible.
- Behaviour change through education: central to the success of this strategy is changing consumer behaviour. It is essential to raise awareness about the consequences of food waste and the importance of responsible consumption.
- Partnerships: collaboration with various stakeholders, including government agencies, food producers, retailers and NGOs is crucial to implementing effective food waste reduction initiatives.
- Regulation and incentives: the strategy explores the possibility of regulations and incentives to encourage responsible disposal and practices. It is worthy to note that there are already comprehensive organic waste management laws and regulations in place under the National Environmental Management: Waste Act.
- Monitoring and reporting: robust monitoring and reporting mechanisms are pivotal for tracking progress and holding stakeholders accountable. Identifying areas with the highest food losses and waste will help in tailoring effective interventions.
Environmental and Social benefits
The development and implementation of this strategy has significant benefits, including:
- Resource conservation: by reducing food losses and waste, South Africa can conserve valuable natural resources, including water, energy and land, which are used in food production. It also reduces Green House Gas emissions from decomposing food waste in landfills, contributing to climate change mitigation.
- Economic savings: less food waste translates into economic savings for households, businesses and the nation.
- Food security: by mitigating losses in the supply chain, more food can reach the hungry. This is vital.