‘We are confident that we can help to solve South Africa’s food insecurity crisis through our national FoodBanking model, but in order to achieve this, government has to put in place a food donations policy. We have requested this for years but nothing has been done.’

These are the words of Andy Du Plessis, the managing director of FoodForward SA (FFSA), the largest food redistribution non-profit organisation in South Africa, established in 2009. FFSA recovers edible surplus food from farmers, manufacturers and retailers, and distributes it through 2750 registered non-profit and beneficiary organisations to 950 000 vulnerable people throughout South Africa every day.

Du Plessis explains that 10 million tons of food goes to waste every year in South Africa and ends up in landfills (July CSIR 2021 technical report on food loss and waste). That’s a third of the 31 million tons produced annually in South Africa. Fruit, vegetables and cereals account for 70% of the wastage. A huge percentage of this is completely good, edible, healthy food.

‘It’s criminal to dump or incinerate good food,’ says Du Plessis. ‘Moderate to severe food insecurity is affecting 28million people in South Africa who are going hungry every day and routinely have no nutritious food. These are stats from the 2021 National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM).’

He adds that according to Department of Health statistics, 27% of children under five in South Africa suffer from malnutrition, which is also the cause of death of 50% of new-borns in hospitals. This, in a country that produces more than enough food to feed all its people as well as export all over the world.

‘In the last financial year FFSA collected well over 12 000 tons of food equating to 48 million meals,’ says Du Plessis. ‘Our FoodBanking model is highly cost effective at 68c per distributed meal, and each year we are growing. This financial year we are looking at 15% growth.’ To help accelerate its growth, the WWF Nedbank Green Trust is contributing funding to FFSA over three years.

Over 95% of the food donated to FFSA is nutritious, including fruit, vegetables, yoghurt, milk, cheese, cereals and canned goods like baked beans, as well as protein sources such as pilchards. Many of these foods are unaffordable for millions of South Africans who mainly eat cheaper starches like maize meal.

FFSA has a string of regular suppliers including food manufacturing corporations, food retail chains and farmers, with more coming on board every month. ‘However, many others said that their organisations do not allow them to donate perishable or non-perishable foods without a policy in place because of liability concerns or uncertainty,’ Du Plessis explains. ‘FFSA is still only recovering less than 1% of the 10million tons of food that goes to waste every year.’

He says they have been talking to national government departments for years about developing a food donations policy. ‘Nothing has been done because it is complex and a huge amount of work.’ Of course it is, but it is achievable with political will and application. Surely this is something the Presidency should be leading? As a champion of Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, the South African government is part of the global commitment to halve food waste by 2030 and is obligated to achieve this.

With no progress from government, in October FFSA launched the food donations policy petition to inform citizens about how bad the situation is in South Africa and rally support behind this. ‘We are engaging interest groups like the Human Rights Commission to work with us to gain momentum and push this policy forward.’

The relevant departments are the Department of Health, which is the guardian of the Food Act, and the Department of Trade and Industry which is the guardian of the Consumer Protection Act. ‘There are models we can look at from several countries that have food donations policies in place, including Israel, Italy and the USA. We should be leading the way on the African continent with both a food donations policy and surplus edible food recovery.

‘If there was a food donations policy in place and we could recover just 5million tons of food per year, we could provide every single hungry person in our country with two meals every day. We have all the infrastructure and logistics in place to scale up. We have a fleet of refrigerated trucks that enables us to collect surplus food and also takes it to vulnerable communities across the country.’

We collect food daily from our food donor partners and deliver it to our warehouses in all eight provinces, with the ninth in Mpumalanga opening next year. The food gets checked, stored, and redistributed to our partner NGOs and beneficiary organisations according to their different needs, such as a crèche or old age home. They use the food to make meals in under-served communities. We cover deep rural areas too, where our mobile rural depot programme delivers food to partner organisations.’

Du Plessis says that all beneficiary organisations throughout the country are carefully reviewed and vetted to ensure they have accountability measures in place. Recipients at the household level are identified by social and health workers, nurses and dieticians.

To create better access to food, FFSA has a digital monitoring platform called FoodShare. ‘The platform also serves to digitally connect the closest supermarket retail chains with the nearest beneficiary organisation to reduce costs,’ Du Plessis explains.

‘Food is supplied all year round and holiday periods are no exception. With Christmas approaching, 2750 of our partner organisations will receive all the food they need for the whole of December,’ says Du Plessis. ‘We can solve the hunger crisis in South Africa and help our people until the economy grows to create jobs and fewer people are dependent on donated food – but for now this is not the case. Our people need food.’

For more information go to FoodForward SA’s website: foodforwardsa.org.