South Africa has long tended to lead the way in terms of modern Africa’s eco credentials, so it’s perhaps not altogether surprising to hear that the continent’s first dedicated vegan magazine launched there this year. The Vegan Life is a slickly produced, 68-page glossy detailing the many virtues and health benefits of ‘ethical eating for plant-nourished people’, via a monthly series of recipes, features, interviews and lifestyle tips.
Although green concerns and ethical consumer habits have been on the rise in South Africa for some time, what’s even more encouraging is that the trend seems to be spreading. Crucially, it’s not only spreading to shoppers and homeowners in other regions of Africa – but also to key business and tourism sectors across the continent.
For example, the 2016 Sustainable Brands Conference, held in Cape Town, was delivered around a triangular agreement between the Forest Stewardship Council, South African Airways and Tetra Pak. The latter presented research showing that ‘63% of South Africans believe people pay attention to eco labels’ placing South Africans ahead of consumers in India, China, the UK, and Turkey’ in terms of shopper concern levels for issues around ethical buying.
As well as reflecting a growing sense of responsibility in the African nations, the three corporations hosting the conference declared that this increased concerns ‘opens up doors to consumer-focused companies across all industries to incorporate sustainability within their products and policies’, and underlined ‘the importance of building market demand from environmentally conscious consumers’. In other words, major African businesses are starting to believe that ethical consumerism can in fact be profitable.
Judging by the snowballing success of eco-sensitive businesses across the continent, they’re right. Last month’s World Travel Market Africa expo concluded with the announcement of its prestigious Responsible Tourism Award winners, featuring such devoted (and highly successful) environmental champions as Mozambique’s Ilha Blue Island Safaris, the renowned Damaraland Camp in Namibia, and Swaziland’s MTN Bushfire festival.
The Vegan Life publisher Marianne Erasmus was interviewed during the magazine’s launch phase by online resource Plant Based News, and noted that there had been a ‘huge shift towards veganism’ in South Africa and beyond. Indeed, evidence for this increased focus on ethical and eco-friendly lifestyle and shopping habits is now starting to pop up all over Africa: Greyton Transition Town’s Pure Café is the first dedicated vegan and vegetarian restaurant in the Overberg, while the high-end Spier hotel and restaurant in Stellensbosch maintains a sharp focus on locally-sourced ingredients and reduced food miles. Cape Town itself boasts multiple similar examples, from the Dear Me vegan and wheat-free brasserie to Origin Coffee Roasting, as well as the notable café-based training centre for young local people with intellectual disabilities, Brownies & downieS.
Most promising of all is the fact that these sorts of enterprises are clearly helping to spread a take-home message to their customers. Last year, Fairtrade released figures last year showing a recent major uptick in Africa, with wine revenues having grown by 18%, coffee by 23%, and rooibos tea by 65% during the 2013-14 sales period alone. An ever-growing percentage of shoppers are embracing simple swaps to achieve a more ethical and sustainable grocery basket, and Fairtrade’s ongoing LABELWISE campaign recently reported that today’s African consumers showed dramatically increased concern for ‘challenges related to deforestation, climate change and overfishing, to unethical labour practices and sharing of benefits’ in their selections.
With such impressive people power backing the drive, and major businesses quickly latching on to the idea that there’s clearly a fast-growing market for ethical consumerism, the future looks brighter for modern Africa’s environmental efforts than it has done in decades. In fact, grassroots African campaigns like the HORTGRO growers’ association’s Beautiful Country, Beautiful Fruit initiative – first launched in 2009, and ongoing to this day – have even managed to impact on the buying practices of such major international supply chains as the UK’s Tesco supermarkets.
At this rate, and with the continent’s green credentials seemingly in better shape than ever before, it may not be too long before Africa’s position in the race for global sustainability switches from also-ran to leading light.