Young food waste eco warrior

20 June 2022 - 07:00
By LISA WITEPSKI
Sithuli Mbeje fonder of Afrifood Technologies a company that manufactures fully equipped containers that make on-site processing possible.
Image: Fetola. Sithuli Mbeje fonder of Afrifood Technologies a company that manufactures fully equipped containers that make on-site processing possible.

Young entrepreneurs are running businesses that offer practical solutions for societal concerns.

One such entrepreneur is Sithuli Mbeje of Afrifood Technologies, his business addresses food waste whilst improving market access in the agri-processing space.

Around 10 million tons of food is lost every year with between 40% and 50% of this loss taking place immediately after harvest and during transportation.

Mbeje believes the solution is ensuring that food processing takes place closer to the farms, as this cuts down on food waste and transport costs.

Afrifood Technologies manufactures fully equipped containers that make on-site processing possible. 

Each container comes ready for food safety certification. Mbeje is excited about what this means for youth employment. “Each of our projects creates jobs and we are proud of 50 new jobs – and counting.” he said

This innovative entrepreneur believes that processing food on site not only reduces food wastage, but it also cuts down on emissions emitted during transportation.

“Why pay to transport cucumbers to Johannesburg to be pickled, when you could do the same right on the farm,” he questioned.

Mbeje added that by reducing transport costs, it’s possible for smaller producers to get their goods off their farms and straight onto shop shelves, making the industry more inclusive and accessible.

The business wants to make agro-processing more efficient and sustainable.

“My 10 years in the food technology and science industry showed me that processes in place created waste and increased the carbon footprint. I’m convinced there is a better way of doing things,” he said.

The business is also making science and technology more accessible to small producers.

Sithuli observed that many producers who have been farming on a subsistence level cannot grasp the nuances of HACCP certification, which is critical to ensure food safety.

He assists them by communicating the principles of HACCP in a manner they can understand. “Ultimately, food safety is just another way of looking at food preservation, which is something every small farmer understands,” he said.

Afrifood Technologies is revolutionizing agro-processing and creating market access opportunities for emerging farmers and food entrepreneurs.

“Think of the man who sells chicken gizzards on your street corner, for example. If we can make sure that he is working to established food safety standards, we make it possible for him to improve his livelihood by becoming part of the formal economy of the food value chain,” Mbeje explained.

This helps entrepreneurs gain access to wider markets and positively contribute towards food security.

“Agro-processing is key to food security – without which, South Africans can’t function. You can’t be productive on an empty stomach,” he said.

Mbeje is a role model for the youth: having grown up in a township, he has a firsthand understanding of societal challenges and today his education and experience means that he is well placed to find solutions.