The Australian organisation that turns wasted food into healthy meals now feeds hungry people in South Africa – ABC News

The Australian organisation that turns wasted food into healthy meals now feeds hungry people in South Africa
On a strip of sunlit grass, between Table Mountain and the Cape Town city centre, an excited group of people gather as midday approaches.
There are men and women, elderly gents and spirited youths, the downtrodden and the still hopeful.
They all have one thing in common – they are hungry. 
As the iconic Noon Gun goes off, a wave of energy ripples through the crowd: lunch is about to be served.
At the Service Dining Rooms across the road, cans of lentils have been emptied into a steaming, high-protein stew fit for 250 bellies.
The crowd makes short work of the meal and then disperses, reabsorbed by the shelters, streets and doorways of the city.
"The food is nice, super nice," said Edward van Meulen, a regular at the soup kitchen.
"They give you maybe a nice bowl of home food, the food that we normally don't get."
Had those canned lentils not gone into the stew, they would have gone into landfill somewhere on the outskirts of a city where millions of people go hungry every day.
Instead, they were diverted to the soup kitchen by SA Harvest, which finds surplus food headed for the bin and redirects it to people in need.
The South African organisation is the brain-child of Australian Ronni Kahn, who developed the model when she founded Oz Harvest in Sydney 18 years ago.
She said every year, 6 million people need help getting food in Australia.
"[In] South Africa it's 20 million people need food every day," she said.
 "So the problem is enormous and the challenges are huge."
Ronni Kahn grew up in Johannesburg and credits her South African roots in part for what she's created in Australia.
"My experience growing up in South Africa seeing inequality, seeing discrimination and knowing that there was hunger were part of the value system that caused me to start Oz Harvest," she said.
Now that impulse has gone full circle. 
To get her model off the ground in South Africa, she recruited a childhood friend as CEO.
He started out with one bakkie (Afrikaans for ute) and a small advisory board.
In three years, the organisation has grown nationally and now has staff in four provinces.
According to Ozzy Nel, the chief operating officer based in Cape Town, SA Harvest has already served 28 million meals.
But he said that with one in five people experiencing hunger in South Africa, the problem was bigger than the solution.
"That doesn't mean the food's not there," he said.
"There's over 10 million tonnes of food going to landfill (every year)."
Unlike OzHarvest, which gets much of its food from supermarkets with products about to expire, SA Harvest does not yet get food from retailers.
Instead, it relies heavily on farm produce — fresh fruit and vegetables rejected by supermarkets or exporters.
Mr Nel said many farmers have contracts with retailers who might look at one pallet of produce, not like what they see, and scrap the entire harvest.
"He'll plough that back into his own land because he doesn't want to lose the contract," he said.
What's rejected by a retailer could be a welcome meal for several hundred people.
When the ABC visited SA Harvest's warehouse on the edge of Cape Town's sprawling townships, large containers of almost-perfect apples were being sorted into boxes for beneficiaries.
And another 15 tonnes of produce were arriving later in the day.
None of it stays long.
Priscilla Mpambani arrived with an empty mini-van that was quickly loaded with trays of apples, maize meal, and bags of rice.
"We see healthy food that can help somebody else to have a meal and go to bed with food," she said.
"They'll be so happy because they won't even know they were going to waste."
She helps run Masijonge, her mother's soup kitchen that feeds more than 100 kids and adults in Nyanga.
Ms Mpambani said many people who ate there did not have any other source of food.
SA Harvest is now working to build a digital platform to gather data from organisations like Masijonge so they can efficiently match the demand for food with excess supply.
As Ronni Kahn sees it, that's the core of what she created here: tapping into surplus food and giving it to vulnerable people.
"I knew that the time would come when we … would have a model that could be utilised in South Africa," she said.
"I sleep magnificently at night knowing that they're doing this."
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.
This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.
AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)


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