WSU PROFESSOR CALLS FOR SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS TO FOOD WASTEIn a recent groundbreaking research project, WSU’s Professor Grace Okuthe, has beseeched the sub-Saharan Africa region to explore fruit and vegetable waste's economic and environmental benefits.

In her paper, "Valorising Fruit and Vegetable Waste: The Untapped Potential for Entrepreneurship in Sub-Saharan Africa," Okuthe explored ways food waste could be diverted from landfills and turned into viable enterprises that could enhance youth employment.

Supported by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Okuthe is part of a bigger call to accelerate the adoption of new technological and social innovations in waste management.

One of the drawbacks associated with the lack of proper waste management is greenhouse gas emissions, which exacerbate climate change. This has affected weather patterns in Africa, resulting in droughts and devastating floods that have claimed lives, damaged infrastructure and reduced agricultural productivity.

“There is a lot of food waste in sub-Saharan Africa. It is well known that the bulk of food waste in this region ends up in landfills, which leads to greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating climate change. Similarly, it is well known that there is a lot of food insecurity in SSA, exacerbated by global warming and climate change, among other problems such as regional wars and migrations,” said Okuthe.

Many industries, such as the wine industry, fruit canning factories, supermarkets, and farms, generate thousands of tons of waste yearly, which if valorised, could mitigate climate change, promote resource efficiency, create jobs, and enhance food security.

Despite its great potential, the valorisation of food waste is a concept that many governments in the SSA, including South Africa, have not yet fully grasped.

“There must be awareness about valorising food waste through public education. It requires capital, energy, political will, skills, and a shift in mindset. Most governments in SSA talk about climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions but probably don’t act on waste sorting and management because they do not understand the connection between food waste and income generation or the link between food waste and greenhouse gas emissions,” asserted Okuthe.

World statistics project that the global human population will reach 10 billion by 2050. This implies an increased demand for food.

Okuthe believes aquaculture could be a game changer, particularly as a source of animal protein for marginalized communities, if done sustainably. Even so, fish farmers are challenged by the feed costs.

In response to this challenge, Okuthe’s research suggested that food waste could be used to produce sustainable, locally sourced feed ingredients that would reduce feed costs.

She mentioned the creation of new enterprises from food waste, such as renewable energy, biofertilizers, and nutraceuticals, among other benefits, as these can supplement other agricultural activities for food security.

“In summary, food waste valorisation in SSA holds substantial promise for boosting the economy, enhancing food security, and protecting the environment. However, realizing these benefits will require coordinated efforts across multiple sectors and significant investment in infrastructure and education,” said Okuthe.

Professor Grace Okuthe is an Associate Professor and lecturer at Walter Sisulu University in the Department of Biological & Environmental Sciences. Her areas of expertise include Ichthyology, fish farming, Developmental Biology, and molecular biology. She also chairs the institution’s Sustainable Marine & Freshwater Economic Development Research Niche Area.

By Yanga Ziwele

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