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Let’s Talk about Food Waste in Africa

by Eva Rose Tesfaye on May 31, 2018

Food waste is a growing global concern as the population grows and food security becomes more and more of an issue. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, food security “exists when all people, at all times have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” In September of 2015, the UN announced their Sustainable Development Goals. One goal is to halve global food waste in order to reduce worldwide food loss.

It is estimated that about half of the food produced every year goes to waste. There are several reasons for this, including “best before” dates causing people to throw out food unnecessarily, transportation issues, and misshapen appearances of food causing it to be thrown away even though it is perfectly safe to eat.

A recent study aimed to test the estimates that developing countries produce less food waste than developed ones. It found that South Africa’s household food waste is lower than Europe’s but more than households in the rest of Sub-saharan Africa. This is an issue because more than 12 million people in South Africa suffer from food insecurity.

The researchers who conducted the study looked at the actual food waste that appears in municipal bins in Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni. These two municipalities have a combined population of over 833 million making up 15% of South Africa’s total population.

They found that the food waste amounted to 12kg per person in Johannesburg and 8kg in Ekurhuleni. This higher than the 6kg per person for Sub-Saharan Africa but lower than the 96kg per person for Europe.

Overall this contributes 51000 tonnes in Johannesburg and 25000 tonnes in Ekurhuleni to South Africa’s already overflowing landfills.

According to a report by the WWF from August of last year, it is estimated that a third of all food in South Africa is wasted. Not only is this in stark contrast to the number of people going hungry but it also means that high water and energy costs cause the food waste to hurt the economy and the environment.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has estimated that R61.5 billion has been lost. The wasted water could fill over 600 000 Olympic swimming pools, which South Africa could definitely use in Cape Town right now. About 90% of waste is disposed of in landfills which contribute to the production of greenhouse gases, methane and CO2.

The municipal study also pushes for further research done on food waste in South Africa since it only looks at the municipal bins. There is hardly any research and knowledge on local and global food waste and currently, South Africa has no legislation regarding food waste. The existing legislation is regarding waste and waste management in general.

There are many different ways that food waste can be reduced, individually and on a state-level. Some examples of individual ways are reducing portion sizes, shopping only for what you need, saving and eating leftovers, donating to food banks and farms, and composting. As for more higher level changes, there is improved food storage, food redistribution, better food date labels, consumer awareness campaigns, and increased investment in reducing post-harvest losses.

Featured Image via Public Domain Files

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Eva Rose Tesfaye
Eva Tesfaye has traveled around the world her whole life but thinks of Africa as home. She loves reading novels and watching plays (especially ones with people of color in them). She has a love-hate relationship with her big curly hair.
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