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Food waste is a national disgrace

Nearly half of the food produced in South Africa is wasted.

We’re not alone – it’s happening all over the world – but that level of waste in a country where 9 million people go hungry and children are damaged by malnutrition should be a matter of national concern.

The unsettling numbers came from a survey by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), funded by the Department of Science and Innovation. Despite a global effort to halve food waste by 2030, South Africa has made little progress since the last survey in 2013. More than 10 million tons of the food produced does not reach human stomachs.

The study found that South Africa’s food waste is equivalent to 34% of local food production, but because the country is a net exporter of food, the losses and waste are equivalent to 45% of the available food supply.

Most of the wastage (68%) occurs in the early stages of production, including post-harvest handling, storage, processing and packaging. Food waste at the consumption stage had trebled to 18% since the previous survey. Cereals contribute 50% of the overall losses and waste, followed by fruit and vegetables at 19% milk at 14% and meat at 9%.

Major retailers and the Consumer Goods Council are working hard to reduce food waste. Their efforts need a high-profile intervention. In a country where a fifth of households do not have enough to eat, stopping food waste should be presidential priority.