Food and nutrition security

At the heart of driving Tiger Brands forward

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Tiger Brands is the largest branded food manufacturing company in sub-Saharan Africa and boasts some of South Africa’s oldest iconic brands such as All Gold, Ace, Tastic, Koo and, of course, Jungle Oats. In addition to putting premium quality food products on the table, Tiger Brands is a responsible corporate citizen who passionate about making a difference to the growth and development of all the markets in which we operate. Given the nature of our business, the importance of food security and food safety cannot be overstated. “Providing nutritious food that is affordable and sustainable is a significant responsibility and one which Tiger Brands takes very seriously. Crucially, this is in line with the priorities of the government,” says Dr Stiaan Wandrag, the Sustainability and External Reporting Director at Tiger Brands.

Food nutrition and security have come under the spotlight recently and are key priorities for the South African government. The National Development Plan (NDP) outlines various methods and targets to reduce poverty and unemployment and to eliminate inequality by 2030. In fact, it identifies food and nutrition security as key elements of both poverty and inequality. The resultant National Food and Nutrition Security Policy seeks to ensure the availability, accessibility and affordability of safe and nutritious food at national and household levels. This is also fully aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Why is food security so important?

Food security is a complex matter, with many variables. “For instance, the potential conflict in the future lies between communities, citizens and industry competing for valuable water resources for personal use and for food production. This is a tough question. Do we rather use water to grow crops to feed people and shut down factories leading to job losses? In my opinion, the answer lies in collaborative efforts and partnerships between industry, authorities and communities. Industries not showing significant water savings are at risk of penalties or even being shut down. At the same time, farmers need to learn how to use water more efficiently in agriculture, for example, by irrigating at night to prevent evaporation,” says Wandrag.

The government cannot do it alone. As the only food company on the JSE Top 40, doing our bit to contribute to food and nutrition security is not only incumbent on Tiger Brands but is important in ensuring that all South Africans have access to nutritious and affordable good quality food.

“The food industry and the government do not operate in a vacuum. For South Africa to improve the levels of food security, and for us to get anywhere near realising the vision of the National Food and Nutrition Security Policy, everyone has to do their bit.

“Tiger Brands is in the unique position of having a line of sight of every aspect of the food production chain, from farming, sourcing, manufacturing and packaging to distribution. This has allowed us to gain some unique insights into food security. Factors such as climate change, the prospect of longer droughts in the western parts of the country, challenges on the supply side and the significant population growth is putting immense pressure on the food system,” notes Wandrag.

In a country such as South Africa, we have already seen the impact that the drought has had on the wine and fruit producers in the Western Cape. In response to the growing importance of improving food and nutrition security, Tiger Brands’ strategy 2022 and its purpose, “We nourish and nurture more lives every day”, is timely.

Tiger Brands uses its scale and size to make a positive influence on food security. “We have made strides in a number of aspects of our business; we subscribe to ethical sourcing and only source from suppliers who have a good track record of human rights and as a principle, would never support any form of child labour. Moreover, Tiger Brands supports and influences farmers to make sustainable choices in terms of agriculture. We are also embracing technology in our quest to improve the security of supply—for instance, we use drones to monitor our tomato fields and spot potential problems such as infestations quite early,” he says.

Tiger Brands contributes directly to the strategic development of the agri-sector through our enterprise and supplier development interventions, as part of the broader economic transformation agenda of the country.

“Research has proven that smaller-scale, focused farmers can be more effective in efficient agriculture and harnessing quality,” notes Wandrag.

A significant focus for us at Tiger Brands is to transform our supply chain. As part of this goal, we have partnered with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to identify and develop smallholder farmers, who were previously unable to enter our supply chain or compete with their commercial counterparts. In the first phase of the project, 58 smallholder farmers from Limpopo have been identified to particulate in the programme, receiving financial support, technical training and mentoring, in addition to seed, fertiliser and farming equipment, with a guaranteed offtake agreement from us.

This smallholder farmer programme should create 400 jobs, mostly in Limpopo. One near-term target is to raise the volume of crops bought from these farmers from 13 000 tonnes to 32 000 tonnes a year.

“What is unique about Tiger Brands is that the ideals of food security and sustainability are at the heart of its mantra. In simple terms, people need to eat in order to survive and no food means hunger.

“It is common knowledge that hunger leads to a number of social problems. As a food producer of our size, we are in a unique position to implement and drive changes that improve food and nutrition. We do this not just to support the government, but because it’s the right thing to do,” says Wandrag.

From a food security and nutrition perspective, hunger and malnutrition are huge contributors to problems with early childhood development.

“Proper nutrition is essential to the development of the human brain. The development of well-nourished children in relation to those battling starvation and malnutrition is startling. The same applies to learning—how do you expect children and school learners to focus on their studies if they are hungry? That’s why Tiger Brands’ socio-economic development (SED) programme seeks to build, nourish and nurture sustainable, food-secure communities,” he adds.

Tiger Brands continues to intensify efforts to create food-secure communities in South Africa through a dual support system of food provision and capacity building, with the latter designed to empower communities to sustainably access food. Although this shift to sustainability is a key component of our SED agenda, Tiger Brands’ Nutrition Support Programme continues to meet the immediate need of hunger and malnutrition by providing nutrient-dense and fortified foods to more than 30 000 impoverished South Africans each month.

Foodborne diseases

Foodborne diseases pose a major threat to food security. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Estimates of the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases report, the global burden of foodborne diseases shows almost one in 10 people fall ill every year from eating contaminated food and 420 000 die as a result. Almost one third (30%) of all deaths from foodborne diseases are in children under the age of five years, despite the fact that they make up only 9% of the global population. Most worryingly, the African and South-East Asia regions have the highest burden of foodborne diseases. The WHO African region was estimated to have the highest burden of foodborne diseases per population. More than 91 million people are estimated to fall ill and 137 000 die each year.

Back home, the recent increase in foodborne illnesses, including salmonella and listeriosis, has highlighted the need for meaningful improvements to the food safety system in South Africa. There needs to be a more collaborative approach between the industry, regulators, the government and academia to achieve sustainable results.

In this spirit, Tiger Brands has been investing in improvements to our facilities around the country and we have refocused our energies on training and retraining employees. Tiger Brands will soon be partnering with a major academic institute to launch a new centre for food safety focusing on research, policy formulation and consumer awareness. The beneficiaries of whom will no doubt be the millions of consumers of food in South Africa and beyond.

Looking ahead

According to Wandrag, “everyone has a role to play in improving food security and this is beginning to show in our behaviour—from the harvesting of rainwater to people growing their own vegetables and freezing them for the winter seasons, people are now stepping up. Consumers also have a crucial role to play in choosing where they spend their hard-earned money i.e. buying sustainably sourced goods”.

It’s about simple, sustainable steps that we can all take, “controlling the amount of food that is wasted or thrown away is something we can all be mindful of.

I encourage everyone to look a bit more carefully at their food portions and to try and control the size of their meals. Sometimes, our portions are far greater than our actual need and this leads to waste. Apart from the obvious health benefits, this will ensure less wastage of food. These seemingly small steps contribute to huge leaps in the food and nutrition security”, adds Wandrag.

About Dr Stiaan Wandrag

Dr Stiaan Wandrag is a qualified Veterinary Surgeon and is specialised in toxicology. He worked in research toxicology before joining a major chemical company, where he served as the Responsible Care Leader for South Africa, responsible for environment, health and safety.

For the last twelve years, Stiaan was responsible for the sustainability reporting at a major oil company and served for six years until December 2017 on the GRI’s Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB) as the business and Africa representative. He is still a member of the Integrating Reporting Committee of South Africa’s working group. Stiaan joined Tiger Brands in January 2018 as the Sustainability and External Reporting Director. 

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