‘Waste not, want not’ is easier said than done

The global population hit the seven billion mark in October 2011, and with it came greater public awareness of food security.

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How would food production keep up with a rapidly growing population without depleting the planet’s natural resources?

Several years later, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation dropped the food wastage bomb, estimating that a third of all food goes to waste.

According to the National Agricultural Marketing Council’s 2014 Food Cost Review, the four billion tons of food produced annually is one-and-a-half times more than what we need. So, our worries about feeding the world are unfounded. Even if we don’t increase food production, we’ll still be able to feed the world’s population in 2057.

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For me, food wastage conjures up a picture of a well-off consumer piling his plate with food he has no hope of finishing. This might be true in developed countries, but not here in South Africa. With 12 million people having one or less meals a day, we seem to value our food too much.

SA consumers throw away only 4% of food bought. Most of our food is wasted during production (26%), processing and packaging (27%) and post-handling and storage (26%). Whether poor production practices, infrastructure or quality issues are to blame, the fact is that while we’re wasting food, we’re also losing out on income.

This is especially true for our developing farmers. Inexperience is often blamed for their low productivity, but often they find themselves far from input suppliers and markets. For example, without a proper cold chain and quick turnaround time, harvested vegetables look decidedly worse for wear when they reach the fresh produce market.

Poultry farmers trying to access the commercial value chain are finding it especially difficult. It’s one thing to farm indigenous chickens in your backyard, but quite another to scale up production and switch to the Ross and Cob breeds favoured in the commercial sector.

If you want to keep ‘food wastage’ to a minimum and profit at a maximum, a broiler operation calls for a very specific skill-set, infrastructure and inputs.

But, as Sam Nkosi discovered, there is hope for developing farmers in the form of private sector partners who are willing to reach out to them.

As Sam says: “Farming is not easy and not just anyone can do it”.

Partnering with the right people seems to be the common denominator for success, but too many farmers are unable to reach their full potential due to poor public infrastructure and services. Government is working on this, but if we want to give developing farmers the best chance to succeed and get the economy going again, it needs to work faster.