/ 21 March 2024

Twenty million South Africans face hunger every day

Mining Community Protests Over Lack Of Food And Jobs In Rustenburg In South Africa
What is the government doing in terms of hunger relief and food waste? The short answer is nowhere near enough. (Photo by Dino Lloyd/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Let’s be clear, the hunger crisis in South Africa is catastrophic. You might think this is an exaggeration, but the data speaks for itself.

  • Up to 20 million South Africans are severely food insecure, with millions of children going to sleep hungry;
  • About 27% of our children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition, stunting and wasting;
  • Every year, seven to 10 million tonnes of edible food is wasted, equivalent to 30 billion meals. This food alone could feed all those in need;
  • South African landfills emit up to 450 million kilogrammes of methane gas annually because of the wasted food and organic material going to landfill.

While organisations such as SA Harvest are doing commendable work, they can’t solve this crisis alone. It’s time for fundamental systemic changes, and that’s where the government comes in. It has the resources and power, but lacks the will. Ending hunger in South Africa — preventing malnutrition in children — should be a priority. That it is not is heartless and an injustice. It is also an existential threat to this country.

There’s much the government could do. One effective intervention is to deal with food waste.

The amount of nutritious food wasted in our food chain — from farms to retailers — is staggering. We waste 10 million tonnes annually, equivalent to 30 billion meals. With 20 million people on a spectrum of severe food vulnerability the need in a year is about 20 billion meals. So the amount we waste is enough to end hunger in South Africa. 

Legislation is essential to curb waste and ensure rescued food reaches those in need. France’s “Garot Law” is a notable example.

France has implemented a food waste policy, with specific regulations targeting supermarkets. The policy is known as the “Loi Garot” or the “Garot Law,” named after parliamentarian Guillaume Garot, who initiated the legislation. 

Passed in 2016, the Garot Law has been highly effective in reducing food waste in that country. It has put pressure on supermarkets to donate unsold but edible food to charitable organisations, thereby reducing the amount of food that would otherwise go to landfills. 

The food rescued in the first two years after the legislation was passed increased by almost 30%. 

Importantly, the law also raised awareness about the issue of food waste and the importance of food donation.

The critical aspects of the Garot Law are:

  1. Donation obligation: Supermarkets more than 400 square metres in size must donate unsold edible food;
  2. Prohibition of destruction: Supermarkets cannot destroy unsold food;
  3. Negotiated prices: Fair pricing agreements encourage donations;
  4. Reporting: Supermarkets must report food donations; and
  5. Tax incentives: Supermarkets get tax breaks for food donations.

What is the government doing in terms of hunger relief and food waste? The short answer is nowhere near enough.

South Africa lacks comprehensive regulation. Despite some policy statements, there’s not enough action. For instance, the 2014 National Food and Nutrition Security Policy emphasised the need for food storage facilities but lacked follow-through.

In 2023, a food loss and waste draft strategy emerged, but it was poorly advertised and lacked transparency in progress after public comment. The department of forestry, fisheries and the environment extended the deadline, but there was no increase in advertising its existence. 

The strategy should take a much tougher stance and mandate by law what must be done to significantly reduce food loss and waste, and to bring all food policy under one roof into a single, dedicated structure.

Given the catastrophe in South Africa around hunger, malnutrition, loss of dignity and the great injustice to South Africans, it is illogical to have three ministries responsible for creating solutions. The departments struggle to communicate internally, so communication and coordination between them is a mess. 

Millions of children go to sleep hungry every night in a country where there is no shortage of food. Shame on us.

Alan Browde is the founder and chief executive of SA Harvest.