Food produce that is lost along the supply chain before it reaches the consumer as well as food that is thrown away by consumers is a global challenge. Thirty per-cent of the food produced globally ends up as food waste. In developed countries food waste generally takes place on the consumer side, while in developing countries food waste arises largely along the supply chain due to constraints in technologies such as storage and cooling, but also due to logistics.
Women are crucial to the functioning of a healthy and sustainable food system- whether it is influencing communities and policies or researching new technologies to make every aspect of the food system more sustainable, equitable and innovative. At the University of Johannesburg (UJ) we are continually inspired by the hard work and creativity of women farmers, entrepreneurs, policymakers and community leaders.
While there are innumerable women deserving recognition during this women's month, UJ is recognising an entrepreneurial woman and alumna, Linda Manyeza who is inspiring others and creating a better food system to mitigate food waste and hunger in Africa.
The University of Johannesburg Process, Energy & Environmental Technology Station (UJ-PEETS), in partnership with Food Masters have utilised a simple yet innovative technology that uses solar energy to dry food, reducing spoilage and alleviating rural poverty to aid development of a green economy and decrease food waste.
"We are happy to be working towards drying food with solar energy and technologies which are eco-friendly. We are packing our sample solar dried vegetables in bio-degradable packaging," says Manyeza, founder of Food Masters SA, an Agro-processing company fighting against food waste.
"Food waste is problematic on many levels. Firstly, a lot of discarded food is still good for consumption. Secondly, food waste ending up in landfills is creating greenhouse gases, thus contributing to climate change. Ultimately, valuable resources are used in the production of food- water, nutrients and energy amongst others. It is a great loss when these resources are squandered,''explains Manyeza.
"On the other side, every night many people go hungry to bed. In South Africa, nearly 20% of the households are not food secure and experience hunger, mainly in urban areas. Households with many children experience more food insecurity compared to South African households with few or no children, which makes children especially vulnerable."
Manyeza points out that on an economic scale, the South African agricultural sector, contributes 2.2% to the Gross Domestic Product, while nearly the same value is lost as food waste (R61.5 billion annually), excluding resource utilisation for food production. "The areas that need improvement are the meat and fruit & vegetable sector, mainly in the processing, packaging and distribution stage," she says.
Manyeza received training in food dehydration and preservation and entered into a strategic partnership with Lurco Foundation which funded the set-up of the pilot project in support of Food Masters' vision, as well as to empower women of Ladies in Power co-operative who live in Lindokuhle, an informal settlement in Vandyksdrif, Witbank, which is also Lurco's host community.
The pilot project trained 10 women who did not have the necessary qualifications. The ten women have a total of 48 dependants. "Our pilot project uses an electrical dryer which is not a sustainable solution. Food Masters is working towards dehydrating nutritious food using an off- the- grid solution," explains Manyeza.
Manyeza graduated in the Small Business Enrichment Programme(SBEP) at the University of Johannesburg Centre for Entrepreneurship. Linda's passion for food preservation began when she lost her house, businesses and other possessions. Unable to put food on the table with children out of school, Linda realised that poverty can affect anyone and that she was fortunate to have access to information, unlike many women who were in under-privileged communities, but going through similar challenges as hers.
Being widowed during this difficult period of Linda's life further worsened her situation, but she refused to be defined by circumstances. This prompted her to look deeper into food security in South Africa. Her research revealed the extent of food wastage annually while millions of people go to bed hungry daily. She decided to fight against food waste through food dehydration and train women in rural and peri-urban communities on how to dehydrate food so that they too could fight against food waste, increase food security, earn sustainable income, provide nutritious food to their families, gain skills and be empowered to run a profitable business while contributing meaningfully to the economy.
UJ-PEETS supplied an initial small solar dryer acquired from BioMed to test the performance for quality and output to assist with increased production and decreased outlay of expenses. Food Masters SA provided produce for testing. These samples were prepared in the same manner as for the electric dryer. The solar dryer takes a maximum of 36.557 m2 trays and power solely by a flat plate solar collector. After the initial testing and optimization a larger modified solar dryer will be developed considering the lessons learned.
"Through applied research, student participation and renewable technology intervention, UJ-PEETS is able to support SMEs in the green economy to grow their business and support the energy food nexus" concludes Zelda Rasmeni, engineer at UJ-PEETS.