Water footprints of vegetable crop wastage along the supply chain in Gauteng, South Africa

08 Feb 2019

Food production in water-scarce countries like South Africa will become more challenging in the future because of the growing population and intensifying water shortages. Reducing food wastage is one way of addressing this challenge. The wastage of carrots, cabbage, beetroot, broccoli and lettuce, produced on the Steenkoppies Aquifer in Gauteng, South Africa, was estimated for each step along the supply chain from the farm to the consumer. Water footprints for these vegetables were used to determine the volume of water lost indirectly as a result of this wastage. Highest percentage wastage occurs at the packhouse level, which is consistent with published literature. Some crops like lettuce have higher average wastage percentages (38%) compared to other crops like broccoli (13%) and cabbage (14%), and wastage varied between seasons. Care should therefore be taken when applying general wastage values reported for vegetables. The classification of “waste” presented a challenge, because “wasted” vegetables are often used for other beneficial purposes, including livestock feed and composting. It was estimated that blue water lost on the Steenkoppies Aquifer due to vegetable crop wastage (4 Mm3 year-1) represented 25% of the estimated blue water volume that exceeded sustainable limits (17 Mm3 year-1).