South African businesses and households have been urged to significantly reduce food losses and waste in order to address the country’s hunger problem, while also addressing the associated economic and environmental impacts, including climate impacts.
The findings of a recently released CSIR study shows that an estimated 10.3 million tonnes per annum of edible food, earmarked for human consumption in South Africa, does not reach the human stomach. This is equivalent to 34% of local food production, but because South Africa is a net exporter of food, the losses and waste is equivalent to 45% of the available food supply in the country. These results point to high levels of inefficiency in the food value chain in South Africa, at a time when there is increasing food insecurity in South Africa.
“The updated figures are in the same order of magnitude as the previous 2013 estimates, but the distribution of the losses and waste across the value chain have changed”, highlights Prof Suzan Oelofse, Principal Researcher at the CSIR and lead researcher. The majority of South Africa’s food losses and waste (68%) occur in the early stages of production with 19% occurring during post-harvest handling and storage, and 49% during processing and packaging. Food waste at the consumption stage is 18%, more than three times higher than previous estimates. In terms of commodity groups, cereals contribute 50% of the overall losses and waste, followed by fruit and vegetables (19%), milk (14%) and meat (9%).
The new CSIR study, aimed at increasing reliable, scientific data and information on food losses and waste in South Africa, was funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) under the Waste Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap. “If South Africa is to achieve the target set out in SDG 12.3, to halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030, we need to inform action through robust scientific evidence”, notes Dr Henry Roman, Director Environmental Services and Technologies at the DSI.
The project builds on the CSIR’s research on food waste undertaken between 2010 and 2015, which until now, was the only national quantitative and economic research on food waste for South Africa.
In response, the CSIR has released a Food Waste Prevention and Management Guideline for South Africa to raise awareness of food wastage throughout the supply chain, but specifically at consumer level in order to address food wastage before it reaches the same levels as in the developed world. The guideline includes information on the drivers and possible actions that can be taken to prevent and manage food waste throughout the food supply chain. It provides practical tips on how farmers, households and distributors can reduce food losses and waste as it impacts their income potential.
“Robust action is required by all stakeholders across the food value chain, from farm to fork, to meaningfully reduce food losses and waste by 2030”, concludes Prof Oelofse.
The latest food losses and waste research, as well as the food waste guideline can be accessed here https://wasteroadmap.co.za/research/grant-017/