Credit Mahlatini Development Foundation.


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.

Climate change is accelerated by greenhouse gas emissions associated with large-scale production and consumption practices. Increases in the frequency of climate-related shocks will also significantly reduce nature’s resilience and exert more intensive demands on food, energy and water supply. 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.

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. The situation poses a major threat to public health and especially affects the poor, who are the most food insecure. The food industry is characterised by market concentration. This means 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.


Worldwide, a projected 50% production increase will be required to feed the global population of almost 10 billion people by 2050. Similarly in South Africa, a population of as many as 73 million people will double the demand for most commodities, with meat and milk demand expected to rise by more than 200%. Models suggest that significant increases in productivity rates twinned with limited imports can meet local demand. But future food security is not only about increasing production. Trends in nutrition shifts, poverty, ecological impacts and climate change all demand a decidedly different approach: one based on food systems.


To transform the food system, progress must happen across all sectors and be made on all levels more or less simultaneously. Efforts must be guided by the interconnected delivery priorities of the Sustainable Development Goals. All the evidence indicates that focusing on system-wide change can bring about rapid, far-reaching and positive change at scale. To achieve this, social, environmental and economic factors must be considered and supported by appropriate technology. WWF focuses on five practical areas for transformative change in the food system, namely: inclusive regenerative farming, optimal water use, responsible sourcing, reducing food waste and dietary shift. This transition must alleviate poverty and reduce inequalities by focusing on those most affected by the nutritional deficit, namely women and children in low-income communities.

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