Taking a closer look at a sustainable food basket

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The Sustainability Institute was invited to exhibit at the 2019 WWF Living Planet Conference. This annual conference provides the opportunity for various stakeholders to come together around a specific topic. This year’s theme, Nourish, placed the focus on food and food systems, and various exhibitors from these fields attended. Farmers, chefs, civil society, scientists, government and the private sector shared their knowledge, experiences and built partnerships in ‘Nourishing the Nation’.

As stated by WWF, the conference comes at a time where most of humanity has lost its sense of connection to one of the greatest sources of human nourishment and planetary health – our food choices. “As more South Africans move to cities and their income increases, so do their diets change. People eat more meat and dairy, waste more and over-rely on packaged and processed food. Yet on the other hand, South Africa needs to produce 50% more food by 2050 in order to address the biggest challenges of undernutrition, over-nutrition and environmental degradation. This is expected to be done without transformative change happening in our food system, while climate change continues to affect food production”. In this regard the aim of the conference was to explore different facets of regenerative food systems that can provide food for all.

As the SI, this provided a unique opportunity to bring together students from our different academic programmes to co-create an insightful and interactive exhibition for the conference. The team composed of Diploma students Megan Hale and Khensani Nkatingi, Postgraduate Diploma students Lauren Bauer, and Paige Garbutt and MPhil student Anne Gacheri. They worked together with SI staff members Rirhandzu Marivate, Vanessa von der Heyde and Amelia Pretorius. The team looked at what it means to have a sustainable food basket and what the challenges and opportunities are behind having such a basket. The focus areas of the exhibition were South African income classes, barriers of access to food, food nutrition and food waste.

The exhibition focused on showcasing three types of baskets: a low income, middle/upper income and nutritious food basket, and letting people interact and choose a basket of choice to create conversation around our food choices and how access influences these choices. The ideal food basket of choice would be the nutritious food basket, however there are a number of factors that prevent many South Africans from making that choice. 

When we regard health and wellness as most important, it is obvious that we would all strive to take the nutritious food basket home. A healthy, balanced diet that consists of a variety of whole, unprocessed, fresh and staple foods every day helps in meeting our essential nutrient requirements, and helps fight different forms of malnutrition from stunting to being obese, as well as non-communicable diseases (WHO, 2016). However, we have learnt that a nutritious food basket is often not affordable to a large portion of South Africans, with 62% of households being considered poor (Standard Bank, 2016; 2017), and 26% of people food insecure and at risk of illness (FAO, 2011). Only 13% of South Africans grow their own food, while most of the country’s access to fresh food is dependent on the market (Department of Agriculture, 2017). A third of the food that we do take home – 10 million tonnes adding up to R21.2 billion – ends up being wasted (Nahman, et al., 2012).

In order to make a nutritious food basket more accessible and reduce its environmental impact it should be made sustainable. A sustainable food basket is one that is protective of and respectful to natural resources, while being accessible, economically fair and affordable to people (FAO, 2014). Taking home a sustainable food basket means purchasing food locally and supporting small-scale agricultural co-operatives that grow and distribute nutritious food within the local environment, and enhances livelihood security (Zeeuw, 2008). A sustainable food basket also means growing your own food, if possible, in order to have access to fresh seasonal food and reduce your food expenditure, and becoming more food secure. For example spinach is easy to grow and very nutritious at the same time. As consumers we need to educate ourselves on how we utilise food, in order to make better choices to reduce food waste. Vegetables that are not perfect, or what the market calls ugly foods, still have the same nutritional value. It is up to us to practice better food waste management. Reducing the amount of food lost along the food supply chain provides opportunities to reduce the occurrence of hunger and improve food security.


The foods that were displayed as part of the exhibition were donated afterwards to a soup kitchen. The conference was an opportunity for the students to showcase their hard work, as well as to be exposed to different experts, and to network and engage with their peers.