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A South Africa Without Hunger Is Possible

For Portia Ntzakana, the lockdown has meant a sudden loss of income for her family. The measly social grant of R440 a month she receives is nowhere near enough to cover the meals and living costs of her nine family members.

Luckily, before lockdown, her nine-year-old son had been attending Nyanga-based organisation Etafeni daycare. Since the implementation of lockdown, the organisation has been providing monthly food parcels for their beneficiaries.

Ntzakana told Daily Maverick that she was living with severe depression and was suicidal before she found Etafeni. She teared up as she described the ongoing battle of living with HIV and the daily fear of stigmatisation.

In normal circumstances, Etafeni runs an Early Childhood Development centre, offers psycho-social counselling for people living with HIV/AIDS, and coordinates various other health and social development programmes. 

Etafeni’s kitchen staff prepare over 500 meals a day in non-Covid-19 times. Their food supply is greatly supported by FoodForward SA, who provide them with a monthly delivery of staples and a weekly supply of fresh vegetables, which they collect from the Pick n Pay at N1 City. 

FoodForward SA has been in operation since 2009. According to managing director Andy du Plessis, their model has the potential to successfully eradicate hunger in South Africa.

Partnering with retailers, manufacturers and farmers, FoodForward SA collects surplus yields and unsold foodstuffs and redistributes it to over 1,000 beneficiary organisations. According to Du Plessis, they have been reaching more than 400,000 people daily during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition to their infrastructure-heavy distribution network, they have implemented “FoodShare”; a digital web-based platform that links beneficiary organisations with nearby retailers that have surplus stock for them to collect.

Beneficiary organisations are vetted before being added to the network. Du Plessis says that by partnering with registered beneficiary organisations, they are not only feeding the hungry, but actively supporting social development.

Picking up his weekly food supply from the warehouse in Epping, David Pillay, who runs a “daycare” for disabled community members in Bonteheuwel, told Daily Maverick that his organisation would not be able to survive without the monthly support from FoodForward SA.

He is able to provide his 35 members with two meals a day and on occasion food parcels for the most vulnerable members to take home for their families. He has thus far been unable to secure funding from the government and, apart from occasional donations, relies on the R50/month membership fee which only some of his members are able to pay.

Grannies Against Poverty and AIDS (GAPA) is a Khayelitsha-based NGO. With the help of FoodForward, they too have been able to provide their staff and some of the 220 local grandmothers in their network with food parcels for their families.

Outside of Covid-19 times, GAPA’s grannies run an aftercare for vulnerable children, for whom they provide hot meals and host health- and lifestyle-related workshops for their grandmothers. They also teach sewing and beading for the grandmothers to be able to earn a small income during tourist season.

Nompemelelo Mwanda says the R300 to R500 she goes home with on days when tourists visit the centre is invaluable to her and her family. During lockdown, she has been working on her craft at home, hoping that one day the tourists will return to Khayelitsha.

She is also deeply concerned about the kids she cares for at the aftercare, many of whom are from abusive families and no longer enjoy the safe space of the GAPA centre.

At Etafeni in Nyanga, Victoria Ndengemani tells Daily Maverick that her family had only received one government-sponsored food parcel at the start of the lockdown. Without the food they got from FoodForward, they would not survive. There is little work available, especially during lockdown.

Portia Ntzakana says her arrival at Etafeni marked the start of her new life. She was given the necessary counselling and care, put on medication for HIV and depression, and has since gained a new reverence for life.

Etafeni comes across as a community, rather than a generic NGO, going beyond their mandate to improve the lives of their beneficiaries. Ndengemani says when her house burnt down and the municipality refused to help, Etafeni assisted with rebuilding it.

These are real, community-driven organisations, says Michael Davis, manager of FoodForward SA’s Western Cape branch. The organisations receive three unannounced audits a year. “If they don’t do what they say they’re doing,” Davis says, “they fall off our radar.” 

Due to supply chain inefficiencies such as inaccurate projections and overordering, an estimated 10 million tons of edible food is wasted annually. Retailers often have to discard goods that are still safe to consumers (FoodForward SA does safety checks before distributing food) or food with damaged packages, but does not distribute expired food.

FoodForward SA receives this food for free and presents their partners with tax certificates in return. This process also saves retailers the cost of discarding food. According to Du Plessis, even the most advanced supply chains in the world have inefficiencies that cost producers millions and result in tons of good quality edible food being discarded.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Du Plessis says. With their only expenses being administration and distribution costs, FoodForward SA is able to distribute nutritious food for an average cost of 85 cents per meal.

During a tour of the warehouse, Davis explains how he inspires his staff to give their best. “I tell them that this is not a ‘job’,” he says, “this is a passion. We enjoy working here because we can go to bed happy knowing that someone has eaten today because of what we do.”

The operation is impressive. A forklift is busy organising the shelves of non-perishable goods. In a large walk-in fridge at the back, vegetables and dairy products are kept fresh. Beneficiary organisations come in to collect their supply, while in the office a team is coordinating donations, collections and deliveries.

A truck arrives from Epping Market. Davis gets excited and immediately climbs inside to see. “A whole pallet of potatoes!” he shouts. The truck is filled to the brim with perfectly good butternuts and potatoes that weren’t sold at the market.

“We need support from the government and corporates,” Du Plessis says. He emphasises the need for the government to support organisations such as FoodForward SA, citing the inefficiencies and corruption in food parcel distribution at the start of the lockdown.

“Covid-19 has shown South Africans the need for a better food supply,” says Du Plessis, “and we can do it.” Politics often gets in the way of service delivery, Du Plessis says, and the government should rather fund apolitical organisations like FoodForward SA to do the work.

In 2018, it cost Food Forward R18-million to run the organisation, with which they were able to unlock R230-million worth of food. Assuming that Covid-19 will be around for a long time, Du Plessis says that food security needs to be rapidly amplified. He estimates that FoodForward SA will need R102-million to ensure that they can reach 1.5 million individuals over the next two years. DM/MC