The food system, while highly productive, has done more damage to our natural environment than any other human enterprise. Of all activities on earth, the production of food is the largest contributor to biodiversity loss, deforestation, desertification and soil degradation. It escalates water scarcity, leads to declining water quality and causes widespread damage to marine ecosystems.
Signs that the food system is failing include increasing trends in food poverty, hunger and malnutrition, a lack of dietary diversity, child stunting, greater vulnerability to disease and an obesity epidemic brought on by people eating high-calorie processed foods with little nutritional value.
Access to food and adequate nutrition are rights enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa, but while there is sufficient food to meet calorie requirements, hunger is rife – 22% of households have inadequate access to food. Despite the evident need, 33% of all food produced goes to waste.
The food industry is characterised by market concentration. This means that a few production, processing and retail companies determine choice, control supply and influence policy. The dualistic agrarian structure, where commercial farms co-exist with a very large number of smallholder farms, reflects the historic patterns of racial and gender oppression, land dispossession and economic exclusion.
In response to this crisis the WWF Nedbank Green Trust launched the ‘Resource Smart Food Initiative’. The project’s intentions are to intervene in the South African food system to determine actions that could make it more sustainable.
To date the initiative has collaborated with diverse stakeholders from government, business, academia and civil society to do research in order to inform decisions and interventions, and to provide pragmatic solutions for a sustainable transition.
The activities include research, report publications, pilot projects, localised partnerships, training and learning. Over the course of the project the focus has shifted from filling much-needed gaps in knowledge, such as about food waste, to investing in broader systemic and interconnected interventions and understandings. This transitioning has guided the work that WWF-SA has undertaken for the project (ie building from one activity to the next) and has provided a platform for WWF-SA to be an advocate for and partner of a food system that could change to become more sustainable.
To learn more read our Food report.