Breaking the cycle of food insecurity

Zinzi Mgolodela, Head of Transformation at Woolworths

Zinzi Mgolodela, Head of Transformation at Woolworths

Why is ‘food security’ so important for Woolworths?

Woolworths is one of South Africa’s big five food retailers so providing good food to South Africans via our national network of stores is crucial to the sustainability of our business.  We source over 90% of our food products locally, so we play an active role in ensuring that food production and farming is viable and grows with our nation’s growing needs. Everyone has the right to access food either via retailers or being able to grow their own food. Consequently, for more than 12 years we have been actively involved in a number of food security initiatives, teaching and supporting communities and rural farmers.

What role does Woolworths play in addressing food security in South Africa?

As a private label food retailer with a strong emphasis on freshness and quality, we have “sell by” and “best before” dates on our food products to ensure customers enjoy our food at its best.  This results in us having to remove food from our shelves that hasn’t sold within its “sell by” date but is still within its “best before” date, so [it’s] still safe and delicious.  We call this “surplus food” and we have an extensive charity network linked to our stores which collects this food to feed the needy. This last financial year we donated R440-million worth of food.  

While this initiative addresses an immediate need for food, we then extend our reach through initiatives where we are able to empower communities to grow their own food. For over 10 years we have provided financial support to Food & Trees for Africa’s flagship programme — EduPlant. This is South Africa’s longest running and most successful schools gardening programme, which teaches and empowers schools to grow their own food, share that knowledge with their community and become food security hubs using sustainable permaculture techniques. Hundreds of schools across South Africa are supplementing their school feeding schemes with fresh, sustainably grown fruit and vegetables thanks to the EduPlant programme. 

Emerging farmers are crucial to the sustainability of food production in South Africa and they offer us an opportunity to expand and diversify our supplier base as well as to introduce innovation in our food offering. We have a proactive Enterprise and Supplier Development programme which identifies, supports and creates a market for small black businesses and enterprises.  A sizable contribution is made to agriculture and food production.

Our existing, established food suppliers employ thousands of South Africans and play a vital role in helping South Africa become more food secure. Five years ago we launched our Farming for the Future initiative which ensures the sustainability and sustained growth of our farming community.  The initiative focuses on sustainable farming methods and ensures that our farmers are adapting to climate change, minimising their reliance on artificial inputs and helping them increase their yields by farming more efficiently.

What has Woolworths  done this year in acknowledgment of World Food Day?

This year’s World Food Day theme is focussed on rural farming and social protection, which  speaks directly to our food security initiatives. This year, we are celebrating World Food Day by sharing the successes of the EduPlant programme with our employees and customers.  Our employees are getting their hands dirty by volunteering a working day to work in an EduPlant school’s garden, assisting in taking their gardens to another level. We have also created an opportunity for two top performing EduPlant schools to sell their produce at our Hout Bay and Mall of the North stores on World Food Day.