One third of all food in South Africa goes to waste. And yet, approximately ten million South Africans go to bed hungry.
This tragic irony is bringing some of the nation’s biggest food producers together to look for new ways to drive down waste, push for legislative changes around food expiry dates and intercept the food supply process in order to get more food into the mouths that need it most.
“We can’t turn a blind eye as a responsible corporate citizen to the challenges that society is facing,” says Mary-Jane Morifi, Group Executive: Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at Tiger Brands. “We have a responsibility to curb this food waste, particularly what is still fit for human consumption.’’
The idea is to increase food security in the country. And that, says Morifi, means more than simply filling people’s stomachs. “People are food secure when they have sufficient food that is affordable, that is nutritious and that is easily accessible. We are not talking here about just tummy fill. We are talking about food that … sustains life.”
In order to drive this, one of the organisations they’re collaborating with is FoodForward SA. A long-time player in the food security space, the organisation doubled its operations to try and meet the needs arising from lockdown.
Andy du Plessis, the organisation’s managing director, says that the root of the problem is a networking issue.
“We need to understand that South Africa has a net surplus of food,” says du Plessis, managing director at FoodForward SA. “We are facing a massive food security crisis in our country, but not because there’s a net deficit of food. The problem is at a household level … people can’t buy nutritious food because it’s becoming too expensive. People have to eat smaller meals, and that’s part of the problem here. What we need to do is develop better connections between where the food is and where the food needs to be.”
Those connections could potentially be brokered between the 20 000 players in the supply chain, including the agricultural environment (farmers, agri-processors and producers): according to du Plessis, that’s where roughly 50% our South Africa’s food waste is taking place; and the manufacturing environment, where an estimated further 20% of food is being lost.
“What we need to do is be innovative and intercept at the right time.”
One way of doing this is food recovery through a mechanism called food banking. “We take in within-date, quality surplus food from the supply chain with partners like Tiger Brands, and we use that to feed people,” says du Plessis.
The model is extremely low cost, helps to feed hungry people, and drives down waste. “We are running out of landfill space and it’s now at the stage where it’s unavoidable. We have to do something,” he says.
For Karl Muller, operations manager at Tiger Brands Foundation, another important consideration is the changing of legislation around food best-before and sell-by dates. “In a society … where there’s so much structural inequality, it’s an obvious quick win,” says Muller.
This is where partnerships become key, he says. “There’s no one single entity that can make this happen by itself.” In his opinion, the first step is for government to create an environment that rewards programmes that minimise the waste or destruction of food. Corporates also need to come on board by scrutinising how to change their value streams in order to drop waste and leverage their supply chains in order to drop the price of getting food to the homes that need it.
He argues that urgent action must be taken, or South Africa will “reap the harvest” decades from now. School children with full tummies are able to concentrate better, perform better academically and suffer from less illness and school absenteeism, he says.
“If the children are not achieving because they are hungry, it has a knock-on effect 20; 30; [or] 40 years later,” says Muller. “You’re at a life deficit if you have a nutritional deficit when you are young.”
While legislative change could help frame the environment for change, du Plessis argues that companies need not wait to be coerced by law in order to share excess food with the poor.
“It’s good business, and it’s good for business,” he says. “We need to act now. You don’t need a legislative environment to do good.”
And many companies are voluntarily getting involved in the conversation. Morifi highlights that a number of large food producers have, through industry bodies such as the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, undertaken to decrease their waste by 50% by 2030.
It’s one of several ways that competitors have come together in this space.
“Crises make for very strange bedfellows,” says Morifi. “This is something that requires us working as a collective and collaboratively to be able to deal with the challenges. The solutions are solutions for the country and not for us as individual businesses.
“Doing good is not a competitive advantage.”