Rescued vegetables allay South Africa’s virus-linked hunger

Johannesburg, Feb 23 (AFP):
Left jobless by the pandemic and a fire that destroyed her sewing machine, Nomaqhawe Dlomo polished off a hefty portion of maize meal and vegetables dished out at a community centre in a Johannesburg township.
Days earlier, the cabbage and pumpkin on her plate were strewn in a pile of discards from South Africa’s largest fresh produce market, waiting to be incinerated. Around one third of food produced in South Africa ends up in landfill, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature, amounting to around 10 million tonnes of waste per year.
“People throw away food that we can make use of,” said community centre manager Khetiwe Mkhalithi, who has seen an increase in those needing to be fed since coronavirus hit. Charities have long been lobbying the government to revisit food redistribution laws in a country where more than 11 million people went to bed on an empty stomach even before the pandemic.
“The legal liability of what happens with the produce lies with the producer,” Hanneke Van Linge, head of food rescue group Nosh, told AFP. “So a lot of farmers, retailers and hotels don’t want to give away their wasted food because they fear litigation.” But the economic ravages from almost a year of rolling coronavirus restrictions have booted food producers into action. Many more are now reaching out to soup kitchens and feeding schemes with much-needed donations. “We are building relationships… so that we can do this on a more formal basis rather than skirting from the outside,” Van Linge said. A distinctive smell of rot wafted from 480 bags of browning cabbage heads rejected by food inspectors patrolling Johannesburg’s City Deep market. After convincing the seller to donate the lot, Van Linge ushered in a small team of volunteers to lug out the pallets before market authorities could intervene.
Usually reluctant, traders have been more forthcoming since coronavirus hit, despite the risk of being fined for giving away food deemed “unfit for consumption”.
Van Linge is careful not to cause trouble.
“Let’s clean the loose leaves off before loading,” she instructed. “If there are cabbage leaves flying everywhere it just attracts more attention.”
Forklifts in the background noisily crunched into crates of bruised avocadoes and softened tomatoes, dragging them to a truck shortly headed to a dumpsite.
“I can’t watch,” Van Linge flinched. “It’s diabolical.”
Nosh has rescued around 880 tonnes of produce in the past 10 months, around four times more than over the whole of 2019.

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