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South Africa has a growing hunger crisis and is running out of time. Nearly two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, non-profit organisations operating feeding programmes are increasingly under severe pressure to serve thousands of South Africans who are desperate for food. This is being exacerbated by donor fatigue, resource limitations and poor strategic planning at a national level. 

All the while NPOs are struggling to keep up with the demand in under-served communities.  

In order to effectively turn the tide on prolonged hunger and food insecurity, we need improved strategies that are cost-effective and sustainable.  

While it is generally agreed that in order to improve livelihoods and create decent work opportunities, we need a more robust economy, our primary objective must be to ensure food security at the household level.   

An analysis of the data is grim reading and will directly impact hunger in our country. 

The Department of Social Development noted in March that “Despite the National Development Plan setting a goal of reducing inequality by 2030, South Africa still holds the unenviable position of being one of the most unequal countries in the world”. The United Nations notes with concern that the Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty and hunger by 2030 are unlikely to be realised.  

The implications of this are severe. The long-term effects of protracted hunger are devastating, and can include:  

  • Weaker immune systems making people more susceptible to chronic diseases 
  • Mental health issues 
  • Cognitive functioning is severely affected, especially in children 
  • Stunted growth in children 
  • Starvation ravages a person’s muscles, bone, skin, and internal organs 

The impact of increased unemployment can also not be ignored. Last month Stats SA revealed that unemployment was 11,1% higher than a year ago. These statistics are cause for concern, as they are crucial indicators of how poverty and inequality manifest at the household level.  

An IPSOS survey found that six out of every ten South Africans (58%) say that the pandemic has a negative impact on the income of their household – making feeding their families harder. 

At the same time the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) estimates more than 10 million tons of food is lost or wasted annually, costing our economy a massive R71.4-billion. Assuming that, with the right structures and strategy in place, 5 million tons of this food is recoverable and edible, we have the possibility of providing one meal a day to 55 million people. 

So, what is the plan? 

One strategy that has, despite our best efforts, been ignored by government, is the formulation of a policy around the recovery of good quality edible surplus food from the supply chain to support food security interventions.  

  • In March 2021 the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), in collaboration with the Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) and FoodForward SA, published a set of policy recommendations for South Africa that include; Amend South Africa’s Foodstuffs, Cosmetics, and Disinfectants Act to feature a donation-specific chapter.  
  • Produce and disseminate clarifying guidance on food safety requirements relevant to donations.  
  • Amend the Regulations Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs to provide for a quality-based and safety-based food label only, consistent with a dual labelling scheme. 
  • Amend the Regulations Relating to Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs to explicitly permit the donation of food after the date of minimum durability. 
  • Enact national legislation that establishes clear and comprehensive liability protection for food donors and food recovery organisations. 
  • Produce and disseminate clarifying guidance on whether the Consumer Protection Act applies to free food donations.  

Several countries are contemplating laws to govern how surplus food donations are managed. France for example has made it illegal for food producers to dump edible food. Rather, this food must be donated to charities.  

Given that around 30 million people in South Africa are either food insecure or at risk, and since procuring food to address food insecurity is not a sustainable solution, the recovery of edible surplus food from the food supply chain is a cost-effective and viable solution to address food insecurity, which government can’t afford to ignore. It is time for decisive action. 

Andy Du Plessis 

Managing Director: FoodForward SA 

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