Gareth Thomas, the trade and development minister, said that the research would enable the food industry and its consumers to understand more about the effect of goods we buy on climate change.
Foreign secretary David Miliband joined Thomas to meet wine and horticulture producers from South Africa as they launched the research.
The £200,000 scheme, which is jointly funded by the DFID and the wine and fruit industry, will inform the development of further studies into the carbon footprint of food production.
It will measure the carbon footprint of the industry in South Africa and establish how its carbon emissions compare to international competitors.
The results will be used to address how the industry can become carbon neutral, securing jobs and increasing the demand for South African produce in a sector crucial for the employment of the poor.
Thomas said: "Food miles created are only one part of the equation -- this study will look at the whole cycle of production which is the only fair way to go.
"Our research has shown nearly three quarters of the UK public want to use their weekly shop to reduce poverty in the developing world. But they don't want to spend over the odds, especially with the global economic situation, and they're -- quite rightly -- concerned about climate change."
South Africa is already starting to see the effects of climate change on its exports. For example, rainfall patterns are starting to affect the fruit and wine industry in the Western Cape.
Nthombi Msimang, Table grape producer, said: "Our buyers are increasingly asking difficult questions about our carbon footprint, this project will allow us to address their concerns but more importantly it will give us the tools needed to secure the industry's long-term sustainability and the jobs it provides."