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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Sustainable Food consumption in South Africa: Setting an Agenda for government policy

The status of current consumption is unsustainable as the rate of human consumption is higher than the capacity of Biosystems to renew. Unsustainability of food consumption severely affects one’s day-to-day life and health; country’s economy; welfare of society and capacity of environment w.r.t source and sink. The literature suggests that the issues of unsustainable food consumption cover challenges of both over-consumption and under-consumption. A young democracy like South Africa which is attempting to address impacts of historical injustices, food insecurity is a priority for the government. Ironically, food wastage is also very high in the country currently. This contradictory context makes it pertinent to prioritise discussions in the area of sustainable food consumption. Literature in this area suggests that consumption is not entirely individualistic process and government policies can direct the sustainable food consumption effectively. Hence, the paper examines the sustainable food consumption in South Africa; explain its characteristics, drivers, issues and journey so far to identify prospects and to establish agenda for government policies.

This is a review based paper which examines the theoretical literature in the area of sustainable food consumption and government policies and establishes importance and scope of government policies. It also investigates contextual literature on the food consumption, food insecurity and wastage in South Africa. The paper summarises and synthesises key insights emerging from the review after critical analysis. It further explores government policy initiatives through the framework given by Reisch, Eberle and Lorek, (2013).

The paper clearly identifies that under- and over-consumptions are two poles of unsustainable consumption in South Africa and both demands equal and urgent attention of policy makers. It highlights that no single intervention is going to be enough or effective in handling these two extreme poles of consumption. A strong policy has to have mix of all four categories of interventions (information based, Market-based, regulatory and “nudging” as suggested by Reisch, Eberle and Lorek, 2013) and more like community led-initiatives. The findings also indicate that there is a need for active and involved policy interventions. Being a young democracy, the process of establishing sustainable consumption policy frameworks and instruments is still taking shape in South Africa and the policy makers have flexibility to learn from the experiences of world economies and leapfrog. Moreover the paper also stresses that the policy interventions which are developed respecting contextual background and current practice; considering integrative and interdependent nature of food system have more chances of success in managing two poles of sustainable consumption.

This paper contributes to a less researched area of sustainable food consumption in developing countries which is often examined from the viewpoint of under-consumption or food insecurity rather than over-consumption of food, wastage and its impacts. This paper establishes importance of addressing both type of unsustainable consumption simultaneously and with the same rigour.

Reference: Reisch, L., Eberle, U., & Lorek, S. (2013). Sustainable food consumption: an overview of contemporary issues and policies. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy, 9(2): 7-25.

Neha Purushottam
Graduate School of Business Leadership, University of South Africa
South Africa


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