Around 45% of food supply in South Africa is wasted, impacting the economy, water security and contributing to climate change, according to research
A study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa found 10.3 million tonnes of food is wasted in the country every year.
While the amount is equivalent to 34% of local food production because South Africa is a net exporter of food the losses and waste are equivalent to 45% of the available food supply in the country.
It concluded that the results point to high levels of inefficiency in the food value chain at a time when there is increasing food insecurity.
The study, funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) under the Waste Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap, aimed to increase the amount of reliable, scientific data and information on the issue.
CSIR has urged businesses and households to significantly reduce food losses and waste to address the country’s hunger problem, as well as the associated economic, environmental and climate impacts.
According to the study, the majority of waste (68%) occurs in the early stages of production, with 19% due to post-harvest handling and storage, and 49% during processing and packaging.
Food waste at consumption stage is 18%, more than three times higher than previous estimates. Cereals contribute 50% of the overall losses, followed by fruit and vegetables (19%), milk (14%) and meat (9%).
Professor Suzan Oelofse, principal researcher at CSIR said although the figures were in the same order of magnitude as the previous 2013 estimates, the distribution of the losses and waste across the value chain had changed.
“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”, said Oelofse.
The CSIR has released a Food waste prevention and management guideline to raise awareness of food wastage throughout the supply chain – and at consumer level – to address the problem.
It says food wastage has a triple effect: negatively impacting the economy, water security and food security. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this week published a report which stated climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying, creating a “code red” situation for humanity.
CSIR said food waste has contributed to climate change by increasing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. The decomposition of wasted food disposed of at landfill generates methane, a greenhouse gas more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
The new guidelines offer advice for farmers, distributors and households. This includes recommendations that farmers should diversify markets to ensure market access for lower quality produce in case of rejections by high-end markets, and optimise post-harvest handling, as well as storage based on the commodity type.
Food processors should put measures in place to allow for rapid retrieval, reworking of products, or reintroduction of primary materials, find solutions for production interruptions, and coordinate production with clients and suppliers.
Distributors are recommended to support local producers to keep transport distances to a minimum, avoid uneven road surfaces to reduce bruising of fruit and vegetables, and optimise ordering systems, cold chain management, and stock rotation.
Henry Roman, director, environmental services and technologies at the DSI, said: “If South Africa is to achieve the target set out in Sustainable Development Goal 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.”