How Food Forward bridges gap between surplus and need during lockdown and beyond – Andy du Plessis

In 2013, a study by the CSIR found that one third of food produced in South Africa ends up in waste. Perfectly edible food is dumped into landfills because of over-production, incorrect ordering, or it simply did not meet retail specifications. Besides being an unnecessary waste, it costs the economy around R70bn annually. Food Forward, a non-profit organisation, has found a way to reduce this staggering amount and save the lives of the vulnerable. Their programme removes surplus food from the suppliers and distributes to the vulnerable and food insecure communities. The Covid-19 lockdown has put many people out of work and is creating an increasing need for food. Food Forward MD Andy du Plessis tells Biznews how they act as act as connector between a world of surplus and a world of need. – Vanessa Marks

The Covid-19 lockdown has many implications, some good, some bad. One concern is access to food for the poor and the needy. There is an organisation, Food Forward, who are providing a solution. To tell us more is Andy du Plessis, the MD. Andy what does Food Forward do?

Our core business is the recovery of edible surplus food from the supply chain. We work with farmers, retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers and they donate free of charge all their in-date surplus edible food due to over-ordering, over-production or incorrectly labelled goods.

On your website you say that there’s about a third of the food that ends up in landfills. Is this figure correct?

It is indeed. A scientific study was done by the CSIR in 2013 where they reached this conclusion. Roughly one third of all the food produced ends up as wasted or in landfills, costing the economy around R70bn annually.

So you try capture this food before it goes into the landfill and then distribute it to those that really need it?

That’s right. We are an intermediary, we act as a connector between a world of surplus and a world of need.

Would some of your suppliers, farmers and retailers, would they not be able to do it themselves? What sort of value do you add so that it makes it easier for the suppliers to ensure that people get this food?

For an example, in the  supply chain, a farmer would grow tomatoes for Woolworths, who would want certain specifications. The farmer has no control what comes out of the ground by the time he harvest, so there will be some produce that will be out of spec for the retailer. So what does he do with that? He has two choices: he can dump it in landfill which will cost him quite a bit of money or he can donate it to Food Forward South Africa. If he donates it to us, he wins on two fronts. Firstly he saves on dumping costs immediately and secondly we are able to give him a Section 18 tax certificate for that donation. So he improves his bottom line that way.

How do you decide who your beneficiaries are?

We have beneficiary organisations ranging from aged care facilities to youth centres that focus on orphans and vulnerable children and women, as well education and skills development centres. We have very specific criteria. They have to be a registered non-profit organisation, they must have a physical facility from where they operate and must offer verifiable services.

The Covid-19 lockdown that is happening now, is going to affect more people now besides the current beneficiaries that you’ve got. Have you noticed an increase in people asking you for support?

Absolutely. Before Covid-19 we were servicing 670 organisations. We’ve taken on an  additional 260 organisations that are not coping and need food support. We are also seeing a huge spike in applications. Before Covid-19 there was already a food crisis. This is now being compounded with the lockdown and the low economic activity taking place. The informal economy such as day traders and weekly paid people are no longer earning an income, they are now food insecure. This need is going to grow steadily in the coming weeks.

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How are you and your organisation going to cope? Where are you going to get more food to help these people?

We’ve put out a public appeal, we have a list or our financial needs on our website foodforwardsa.org. We also put out an appeal for food and non-food groceries to our supply chain partners who have really come to the party in an amazing way. All our warehouses are full and we’ve even needed secondary locations to store food. We are also working with different government partners to target households that need food.

I noticed that you had all financial institution bodies pulling together and supporting you. What support are they offering?

Yes, that was initiated through our partner, the Institute for Risk Management South Africa. They’ve appealed to their network, about 400,000 people, to donate and that’s been happening. We’ve seen a spike in donations since that partnership was activated last Friday. It has been amazing to see how South Africans have responded.

How long has Food Forward being going for?

This is our 11th year, we started in 2009.

How did you get involved, was this your initiative?

No. I started about seven years ago. In this time we improved technology, increased our social partners and operate using an international model called Food Banking.

The improved technology, you recently launched an app, how does that work?

It’s not an app, it’s a web-based platform called Food Share. People can access it via a computer or via a cell phone, so a smartphone is not necessary. The platform connects the  food supplier to the beneficiary within a five kilometre radius. This informs the beneficiary what is available and when it can be collected, who then confirm is they are able to collect. This process increases efficiency.

How are your staff being protected from the Covid virus?

We have a few measures in place internally and during distribution. All our staff wear masks and gloves, we wash our hands every 15 to 20 minutes, our trucks and warehouses are continuously disinfected.

Well it sounds like you’re going to have your hands busy for the next couple of weeks. We wish you luck in your work in helping the community.

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