Turning Africa’s food waste problem into a regenerative opportunity

This article was co-written by Leah Bessa, Olayemi Aganga & Bonolo Monthe. It was originally posted on the Race to Zero Website here. 

Landfills.

Land used for throwing away food.

Surely this can’t be the best use of the land we’ve been given to steward.

The discarding of food in landfills has immense environmental implications and despite the absurdity of the concept, it is a common practise in many African countries.

Landfills and other land degradation practises have removed around a third of global arable land, with sub-Saharan Africa carrying a large portion of the burden. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa wastes around 10.3 million tonnes of edible food in the agricultural value chain, costing the South African economy upwards of R10 million ($700 000).

While some of that waste gets incorporated back into that value chain, in the form of animal feed or fertilizer, a whopping 90% of this food waste gets distributed into landfills. This uncontrolled food degradation in the landfills inevitably leads to the production of environmentally harmful greenhouse gases, like methane.

Over the course of a century, methane has 34 times the greenhouse effect of CO2. Image: Wikipedia Commons.

A key solution to restoring Africa’s land involves rethinking the way we manage food – from what we grow, to what we dispose of and mostly importantly how we dispose of it. A shift from viewing food waste as a problem to one where it can provide a rich foundation for regenerative farming can fundamentally accelerate restoring land soil health, as well as improve food resilience.

Land restoration will be one of the key outcomes at COP26 for the African continent. When world leaders meet in one week’s time, experts such as Race to Resilience and Race to Zero Ambassador, Dr Susan Chomba will highlight the integral role of restoration in climate change mitigation – and the significance of well managed food waste.

“Land restoration, we know very well, is one of the key nature-based solutions that we have to tackle climate change. There’s no solution that can be on the table at COP26 without taking into account agriculture and other land uses,” says Chomba.

A landmark Regenerative Agriculture report, published today, underlines the environmental and economic benefits of restoring land in Africa, which include carbon sequestration, improved biodiversity, resilient ecosystems, and better water management. The report shows that regenerative practices in Africa could create more than one million additional full-time jobs by 2030, reaching nearly 5 million jobs by 2040.

It’s a position that more and more African governments are beginning to adopt. The government backed African Land Restoration Initiative (AFR100), for example, has set ambitious targets to restore 100 million hectares of land in Africa by 2030, which can be achieved through incorporating regenerative practises at farms. This has the potential to increase production yields by up to 13% and create up to 5 additional million jobs by 2040.

South Africa, meanwhile, more specifically has recently committed to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030, with the hopes of encouraging fellow African countries to follow suit. These commitments present a huge opportunity to introduce and scale up innovative solutions to food waste. Solutions range from simple solutions such as recycling nutrients through composting machines, bioremediation and anaerobic digestion to more novel approaches using insects, such as the black soldier fly larvae, as a powerful ‘waste’ management tool.

In addition to government initiatives, there are increasing examples of impressive young agripreneurs making a positive impact on the land and climate change simply by starting a business.

In Botswana, Maungo Craft, a company led by Olayemi Aganga and Bonolo Monthe, saw an opportunity to reduce food waste whilst starting an impactful business. The increase in popularity of the cosmetic oil from the Morula fruit, led to an abundance of processed fruit waste. To put it into perspective, Botswana has potentially a million Morula trees or more, with a single tree, in season, producing between up to 1.2 tonnes of fruit. It then takes 300 tonnes of Morula fruit to yield only 12 tonnes of the cosmetic morula oil.

By utilising the leftover fruit, instead of it being discarded into landfills across Southern Africa, Maungo Craft  produces gourmet jams and preserves that would have otherwise gone to waste. Being a purpose driven company, they also work largely with female harvesters, fuelling the growth of the food and cosmetic industries at the same time, allowing for job creation and economic diversification.

More companies are seeing the value in converting ‘trash’ into ‘treasure’ instead of allowing it to end up in landfills. Initiatives such as Maungo Craft prove that something once seen as waste can in fact bring huge benefits to society, businesses, farmers and our environment.

The time has come for us to accelerate our regenerative agriculture practices and restore the land by using it for better purposes: not for waste — but for growth.

Leah Bessa (South Africa) is a Regenerative Agriculture Fellow for the UN Climate Champions and the CSO for Gourmet Grubb and De Novo Dairy. Bonolo (Botswana) is the winner of the 2018 Gogettaz Agripreneur prize and the CEO of Maungo Craft.