Although South Africa has an abundance of food thanks to thousands of commercial and smallholder farmers, surprisingly more than 1 in 3 children live in food poverty. A staggering 27% of children under the age of 5 are severely malnourished, and almost half of all child deaths in our hospitals are linked to malnutrition (Global Hunger Index 2022: SA).
These are very worrying statistics. Earlier this year, the Human Rights Commission held a commission of inquiry into the deaths of children who starved to death in the Eastern Cape. FoodForward SA was invited to give a presentation on an inquiry about our work in the region.
The main causes of malnutrition in South Africa are high inequality and high poverty, which will take decades to solve. Meanwhile, millions of people are facing an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis due to the devastating impact of the pandemic, low economic growth, and rising food and fuel prices.
According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) data for September, year-on-year food inflation reached a record high of 12 percent. The poor simply cannot afford enough nutritious food for a healthy diet. Children are especially vulnerable because they need to eat a variety of nutritious foods in small amounts for proper growth and development.
According to UNICEF’s 2022 Child Food Poverty Report, “Children cannot survive on staples alone. To fuel their growing minds and bodies, they need to eat a variety of nutritious foods, including fruits, vegetables, fish, eggs and dairy products.
While our most vulnerable children are dying of hunger and malnutrition, more than 10 million tons of quality edible surplus food is being thrown away or burned due to various supply chain dynamics such as over-ordering, poor forecasting, mislabeled goods, liability concerns. etc. Although this food is not sold, it can still be eaten.
According to the CSIR 2021 Food Loss and Waste Technical Report, this food loss accounts for a staggering 34 percent of the food produced in South Africa. In addition, this food waste increases the cost of food because this cost depends on the price of food and contributes to climate change by increasing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
This continuous process is solvable. In the year Since its establishment in 2009, FoodForward SA has been recovering and distributing good quality surplus food from a variety of farmers, producers and retailers. To date, FoodForward SA has distributed 69,000 tonnes of food, translating to 276,000,000 meals.
For many years, FoodForward SA has supported a food donation policy to prevent good food from being thrown away or burnt. Through the Food Loss and Waste Working Group of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA), we have had repeated discussions with the Department of Health, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Environment and Department of Agriculture, but there is a lack of political will to implement this policy.
We cannot stand idly by in the face of cruel but preventable suffering and death. FoodForward SA, in collaboration with the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, the Global Food Bank Network and the Harvard Law School Food Policy Clinic, have developed policy recommendations for food donation. The policy recommendations focus on four areas relevant to food donation: (1) food safety for donation; (2) liability protection for food donors; (3) tax incentives and (4) government grants.
We have launched a campaign called #RepurposeTheSurplus to get these policy recommendations debated in the National Assembly with the intention of initiating them in Parliament. Central to the campaign is the question of food donation policy. We hope to get 100,000 signatures because it is in the interest of all South Africans to address the rising cost of living and food insecurity. We plan to make representations to relevant National Assembly Committees, National Assembly Committees or Joint Committees along with many other advocacy initiatives.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), our unemployment rate is the highest in the world. It will take several years for our economy to grow enough to create enough jobs to raise unemployment in a meaningful way. Meanwhile, millions of vulnerable people suffer the constant humiliation of not being able to put food on the table for their families.
A food donation policy is the low-hanging fruit that provides the poor with better access to healthy food, alleviates hunger, reduces child mortality, and strengthens underserved communities.