Hewett: Why food should not go to waste

Opinion article written on the 03 Jul 2012

TONNES of food goes to landfill while two million Aussies seek food charity, writes Andrew Hewett.


FOOD is such a basic necessity and indeed a fundamental right yet two million Australians seek help from food charities each year while nearly a billion people around the world go to bed hungry each night.

As part of our work to reduce hunger, Oxfam recently called for Australia’s leading chefs and foodies to get creative and we were overwhelmed by the response.

Leading chefs such as Julie Goodwin, Kylie Kwong and Neil Perry were joined by popular food bloggers and home cooks alike in contributing vegetable-based recipes to raise awareness of Oxfam’s work to tackle global hunger and to draw attention to our Stop Hunger appeal.

The appeal raises money for our work to tackle hunger around the world.

For example, this is done by providing people with the tools, seeds and resources they need to grow vegetables such as eggplant, radishes, beetroot, capsicum and spinach.

In Sri Lanka, these humble vegetables – combined with training in home gardening techniques – are not only putting much-needed food on the table, they are also helping families earn an income through selling excess vegetables at the local market.

To highlight the growing world food crisis, Oxfam recently brought to Australia three inspiring small-scale women farmers from South Africa to speak about how they are overcoming numerous challenges to feed their communities and dispel some of the common myths about hunger.

For example, many people may be surprised to know that women produce most of the food in many developing countries.

Unfortunately, however, they also represent more than half of the world’s hungry.

It is estimated that by providing women with the same access to farming resources as men, the number of hungry people could reduce by 100 to 150 million.

Motivated to become her own boss as a small-scale farmer, Gertruida Baartman joined Women on Farms, a co-operative that helps seasonal workers better feed themselves and their communities and increase their income.

Gertruida, a single mother, is now better able to feed her extended family of 12, and says her self-esteem has grown.

She is now a leader in the co-operative, and a role model for other women.

Many of the world’s hungry also work in food production, such as fishing or farming someone else’s land.

They are surrounded by food every day but often are unable to feed their own families.

Other causes of hunger hit even closer to home.

While in Australia it is estimated that many hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food ends up as landfill each year (much of it perfectly edible), in developing countries food goes to waste for different reasons.

For example, food often rots for lack of adequate storage or because poor transport means it is unable to get to the market in time.

Simple solutions can often have an enormous impact on needy communities.

In Vanuatu, a new road that enables women to travel from their rural homes to market to sell food and other goods in an hour, rather than a day, means that women no longer need to stay overnight at the market – something which had increased their costs and compromised their safety.

Incredibly, in Sri Lanka $150 can buy enough vegetable seeds to feed seven families for a whole year.

As well as providing tools and training to help people grow their own food and increase their crop yields where possible, Oxfam is providing emergency food for those facing severe hunger and helping farmers restock grain supplies to help keep livestock alive during the worst months.

In Sri Lanka, Indrani Nallathambi is a testament to what can be achieved by investing in local communities. After losing everything in the Boxing Day tsunami, she has slowly begun to rebuild her life with the support of one of Oxfam’s home gardening programs.

“After the tsunami, food, clothes and even drinking water were a problem for us,” Indrani says.

“We could not even buy the basics. But now I have money, I can buy clothes and other things. And I can use what I grow in my home garden for cooking.

“Now we eat fresh vegetables without any chemical fertiliser.

“We give the fresh vegetables to our village people, and our living conditions have improved.”

For some cooking inspiration from leading Australian chefs and food bloggers who have contributed recipes to support Oxfam’s Stop Hunger appeal, visit www.oxfam.org.au/stophunger.


Andrew Hewett is the Executive Director of Oxfam Australia.