We know the scale of South Africa's food waste problem, but where do we start? Suggestions for farmers, processors and retailers

We are all becoming familiar with the horrifying statistics on how much food is wasted in South Africa, and how much of this could be going to feed those in need. Did you know, about 80% of the food thrown away could have been eaten? While it is imperative that this edible food is diverted, an even bigger prize would be for the waste not to be created in the first place.

So where does a farmer, food manufacturer or retailer even start? This is a good question and will depend a lot on what food you produce or work with, where you are situated in the supply chain, and e.g. your ability to keep food fresh.

In South Africa, the recently launched food waste voluntary agreement is going to be a wonderful platform to exchange ideas, encourage reporting and surplus food diversion (to name but a few opportunities). All of this with the aim of creating a significant shift in the way we view, value, and treat food. I am excited already!

However, this can be a daunting task. Especially if you do not have the capacity to carry out detailed research and implement solutions, or you manufacture and sell many food products. This is where it is helpful to prioritise efforts and find focus. Here, the phrases, “don’t sweat the small stuff” and “tackling the low hanging fruit” are most applicable. Below are 4 relatively easy suggestions on where to focus your start – whether a farmer, processor or retailer:

1. Identify your top products by sales value.

2. Identify your top products by unit sales – just remember, when doing this, consider whether the units are singular or packaged. If the latter, you may need to do some sums.

3. If it is possible, and this one is a little trickier, identify your top products by total weight of units sold. This takes a bit more time and effort, but the information gathered is highly informative for not only this exercise, but any measuring and reporting you may do in the future. But, if you do not have the resources, do not sweat the small stuff! You can tackle this once you are more familiar with gathering this type of data.

4. Identify the top products which suffer the most e.g. damage, or are of particular interest to you.

Drawing on your findings, the next task is to identify the overlaps e.g., does a product come up in more than one list? It is these overlaps and common products that begin to suggest where to prioritise your starting efforts. Depending on your budget, time and capabilities you can then dig a little deeper on each to explore the associated yields, losses and surplus. This will begin to indicate where food waste issues may lie, and therefore where solutions, and the type of solutions, can be targeted.

As a considerable amount of time, thought and know how may be required to identify your priority products for focus, Pinpoint may be able to assist you with this process.

Nicola Jenkin

Senior Researcher, Pinpoint