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Wasting food while others are hungry

In South Africa, an average of 12 million people (almost a quarter of the population) go to bed hungry every night – yet our country has the largest proportion of food wastage in Africa.

According to Professor Suzan Oeloftse, Principal Researcher in Waste for Development at the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)  about 30% of all food produced in South Africa is lost or wasted yet “a large number of the South African population are food insecure.”

The Household Food Waste Disposal Study says that food waste has a triple negative impact. Firstly it is a waste of the resources including water and energy that is used along the supply chain in the production, handling and distribution of food; secondly the socio-economic impacts associated with food insecurity; and lastly environmental impacts associated with waste and emissions (including greenhouse gas emissions) generated during the production, harvesting, processing, distribution and disposal of food that is not consumed.

According to Oeloftse one reason for food waste is households buying too much food, meaning that some goes off before it can be eaten.

“Poor households also often prepare too much pap or buy too much bread which gets old and inedible. Or people fall for special offers, leading to them buying more than can be consumed before the food goes off,” she said.

Sustainable food systems

The Household Food Waste Study notes that the average annual cost of household food waste in South Africa is R21.7-million. Therefore, preventing food wastage will not only save money for households, but will have broader economic, social and environmental benefits.

The study further states that reducing food waste will address food and water security concerns and contribute to the development of more sustainable food systems.

Global estimates of food waste assume similar food wastage in South Africa compared with the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. For comparative purposes, the data collected in household food waste study from metropolitan households in South Africa were converted into food waste per capita per annum. This results in estimates of approximately 8 kg and 12 kg per capita per annum in Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg respectively. Both amounts are higher than the average of 6 kg per person each year for sub-Saharan Africa.

Oeloftse said food wastage also has an additional negative impact on the poor “Food wastage means that more food has to be produced to feed the people, and therefore wastage pushes prices up and makes food even more unaffordable for poor people,” she said.

According to Oeloftse, the key to avoiding food waste is planning “Meal planning should involve using the oldest products in the house first to avoid unnecessary wastage. Portion sizes also need to be planned to minimize left-over food,” she said.

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