Tuesday, February 23, 2021

in South Africa, we save damaged vegetables to appease hunger


On the menu today, corn porridge and vegetables saved from the landfill. In this poor area of ​​Johannesburg, tons of unsold goods, which end up in the trash every year, fill the hungry mouths of those with empty pockets.

Dlomo Nomaqhawe, 39, gulps down his plate. The Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa cost him his job and, twist of fate, a fire then reduced his house to ashes.

She now relies on meals taken in part from the recovery of unsold produce from the country’s largest fresh produce market, prepared by the neighborhood community center.

Poverty in South Africa has been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, in this country where more than eleven million people remain hungry every night, a third of the food produced is thrown away, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). That is ten million tonnes of waste.

“People throw away food that we could use,” said the director of the center, Khetiwe Mkhalithi, indignantly.

At lunchtime, groups of men and women, sometimes with babies, come to get a free meal. Up to 1,500 people per day since the pandemic.

“Most have lost their jobs,” says Mkhalithi. “They have nothing to take home.”

According to a survey, 47% of South African households had no more food to buy in April, the first month of confinement. More than two million people have fallen into food insecurity since the start of the health crisis, estimates the NGO Oxfam.

“The economic consequences have fallen on the poorest,” says Tracy Ledger, a food security researcher in South Africa.

– “Vegetable saviors” –

Associations have long advocated for the law to change in South Africa. Legally, the person who produces a food is responsible for what happens to it and outbursts of generosity are often hampered by the fear of a fine for having given food “unfit for consumption”.

“Many farmers, resellers and hotels do not want to give away their surplus for fear of litigation,” said Hanneke Van Linge, founder of the South African food rescue group Nosh.

But little by little, with the devastation on the economy caused by the Covid, this state of affairs is changing.

In one corner of Johannesburg’s huge City Deep market, a smell of rot wafts over 500 bags of browned cabbage, sidelined by patrols of food safety inspectors.

Busy, Nosh volunteers try to remain discreet.

“Let’s remove the rotten leaves before loading”, breathes Ms. Van Linge. “If there are cabbage leaves flying all over the place, that will only attract attention.”

After convincing the seller to donate the lot, the activist set up a small team to sneak out the goods before the intervention of the health guard.

Later, they will save some sweet potatoes that have passed their use-by date.

A little further on, machines crush crates of damaged avocados and soft tomatoes. Everything will be put in a truck, direction the dump.

“I can’t watch,” exclaims Hanneke Van Linge.

Nosh has managed to recover 880 tonnes of products over the past ten months, four times more than in 2019.

In a warehouse not far away, cabbages with a broken mouth are washed, sorted, brushed by volunteer cooks. Under the rotten leaves, the flesh is still firm and white.

“People don’t know that they can save these vegetables to serve them to someone,” regrets Jane Gqozo, 43, a former restaurant worker who now volunteers.



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