Ending hunger and ending food waste are both central to the aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the African Union’s AGENDA 2063 and the Malabo Declaration/AU regional priorities. The good news is we can tackle both simultaneously, argues Talentus Mthunzi from the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).
Tom Arnold, Global Panel Member and Chair, EU Commission Task Force Rural Africa (TRFA) speaks to Farming First about how preventing food loss and waste across the value chain can improve nutritional and environmental outcomes.
“If food waste were a country,” says FAO, “it would be the third largest emitting country in the world”. But it is not just the planet that is experiencing a health crisis as a result of our food system.
Globally, one in three people are affected by the triple burden of malnutrition – a concern for 193 countries in the world: 264 million women are affected by iron-amenable anaemia, 462 million adults are underweight, and 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese.
The prospect of feeding the extra 1 billion people by 2030 will require the scale and pace of food production to increase, placing further pressure on the system.
Reducing the quantity of the food lost during agricultural processes, storage and distribution, and that which is wasted by stores and consumers is instrumental to addressing both issues.
The traditional policy response to ensuring food security has been to promote higher output of staple crops such as grains, tubers and other starchy foods, which provide the bulk of people’s nutrient energy. Although this approach has helped reduce stunting, it has failed to ensure access to healthy and nutritious diets for all. Poor-quality diets have now become the greatest threat to public health, with diet-related factors accounting for six of the top nine contributors to the global burden of disease.
With rapidly rising levels of diet-related ill-health, it is vital to invest in making high-quality diets available to all. The obstacle is that some of the very foods that are critical components of healthy diets (such as fruits and vegetables) are at the highest risk of loss and waste – hence the urgency to look for solutions across the global food system.
The numbers are staggering. It is estimated that more than half of all fruits and vegetables produced, and over 30 per cent of the total fish and seafood harvested each year, are lost or wasted. As for meat, about 50 million metric tons of meat produced globally is lost/wasted each year – the equivalent of 75 million cows.
For policies to be effective, it is important to understand where in the food system loss and waste occur. Harvest and post-farm gate handling and processing losses are relatively high in low-income countries, for example where infrastructure (handling facilities, energy for cooling, bulk packaging and transport) is limited and costly. In contrast, food waste in homes, restaurants and stores generally tends to be greater in high-income countries, due, for example, to bulk purchases of perishable foods, and to excessive portion sizes that are uneaten.
In 2012, the Government of Ghana launched the “Food for All Africa Programme” – West Africa’s first food bank to rescue edible surplus food from stakeholders within the food value chain and supply to vulnerable beneficiaries. The programme aims to create an efficient food supply chain across the continent, and lead on emergency food recovery.
In 2017, in its National Food Security Policy, the Government of Pakistan included measures to reduce food loss and waste and improve access to safe and nutritious food. It also explicitly recognised that while the public sector should contribute to R&D for reducing losses and waste, the private sector has an important role to play in harvest/post-harvest capacity building. Policy measures include: incentivising investments in infrastructure such as storage, processing facilities and reliable energy supplies; supporting smallholders that yield economies of scale; and introducing procedures to ensure higher corporate accountability standards to monitor food loss reductions in the processing and retailing sectors.
In January 2019, the UK Government announced a new £15 million-worth pilot scheme to reduce by a further 100K tonnes of food that goes uneaten – which equates to 250 million meals a year. The pilot scheme, which will be launched in 2019/20, will be developed over the coming months in collaboration with businesses and charities to address surplus food from retail and manufacturing.
In both low- and high-income countries, there are number of policy actions that can help reduce food loss and waste, while improving nutrition. The Global Panel presented some of these examples at an All Party Parliamentary Group event at the Houses of Parliament in London on February 4th.
The evidence is clear: taking policy action to reduce the huge post-production losses in nutrients from the food system, would make a significant contribution to the efficiencies needed to address climate change and to feed a growing world population. Eating more of the nutrient-rich food already produced would result in savings to land, water and energy consumption tied to food production.
As pointed out in the EAT-Lancet report published last month: “An intended consequence of reducing food waste is the redefinition of how we eat”. Reducing food loss and waste in nutrient-rich foods has the potential to yield substantial nutritional benefits, while offering the opportunity to improve diets, tackle malnutrition and foster healthy and well-nourished societies.
Featured photo credit: GLOPAN.
In this guest post, Bonnie McClafferty, Director of Agriculture for Nutrition at GAIN shares her views about the challenges and solutions faced when bringing agriculture and nutrition together to increase food security in our ever-changing world.
When asked how can we feed the people on our planet with diverse, safe and nutritious foods now and in the future, there is no simple answer. There are many challenges that we face, such as how do we cater to 5 billion people living in cities by 2030 – all needing access to nutritious foods in a sustainable way? How do we ensure that smallholder farmers are able to feed themselves and their families’ diverse and nutritious diets, while working hard to supply the global food system? We also have to face up to climate change and the continual impact it has on the availability of nutrients within the food system. We also mustn’t forget that availability and affordability are crucial if we want to reach the most vulnerable people worldwide and tackle the complex issue of malnutrition in all its forms. Continue reading
As part of our ongoing series that explores the state of the negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals, we asked Fethi Thabet, Theme Leader of Engineering and Agricultural Sustainability at the World Federation of Engineering Organisations how the engineering community can contribute.
What do the world’s engineers have to do with the Sustainable Development Goals? Plenty! If we are to end hunger by 2030 as goal two asks, the engineering profession is going to play a key role.
This is because reducing the vast amount of food that is wasted after it is harvested is going to be vital to meet global demand for food. According to a recent report by the Copenhagen Consensus and statistics from the United Nations, the amount of food wasted is as high as one third of the world’s food supply. This number is higher in many developing countries. Continue reading
A new report published today by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers details the devastating scale of food waste in the world.
The report entitled ‘Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not’ estimates that 50% of all food produced on the planet is lost before we even eat it. This enormous waste of food puts a huge strain on the agriculture sector as it must provide for an increasing population that is wasting up to 2 billion tonnes of food a year.
The report suggests that consumer trends are to blame in developed nations: “Supermarkets will often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables at the farm because they do not meet exacting marketing standards for their physical characteristics”. As a result, up to 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is never harvested.
Supermarket promotions are also suggested as a culprit, encouraging customers to buy excess food that is often thrown away.
At the other end of the supply chain, waste is also common in developing countries due to insufficient storage and access to markets for farmers. Grain storage loss not only wastes resources but it can also cost farmers up to 30% of their yield for a season. A growing population and an increase in food waste means farmers are struggling to meet demands without the necessary investments to increase yields.
Our food supply is not the only resource under strain though. In the process of producing food agriculture uses 70% of the worlds water supply. For countries that rely on rain-fed agriculture the need to create more food is resulting in a shortage of water as farmers use supplies faster than the rain can replace them. However, investments in agriculture can help cut wasteful water use, according to the report: “Better irrigation can dramatically improve crop yield […] although the drip or trickle irrigation methods are more expensive to install, they can be as much as 33% more efficient in water use”.
A further issue is land use, as the report details that agriculture already uses 4.9Gha of the 10Gha land available. Again, consumer attitudes play a crucial role as an increased demand for livestock farming means land is used insufficiently. The report illustrates that one hectare of land producing rice or potatoes can feed up to ten times the amount of people that one hectare of land producing meat can.
To reduce food waste and the pressure on agriculture the report suggests three recommendations for the future:
1. The FAO should work with the international engineering community to ensure governments of developed nations put in place programmes that transfer engineering knowledge to help improve produce handling in the harvest and immediate post-harvest stages of food production
2. Government’s of rapidly developing countries must incorporate waste minimisation thinking into the transport infrastructure and storage facilities
3. Governments in developed nations should discourage retailers from wasteful practices that lead to the rejection of food on the basis of its aesthetics and discourage excessive purchasing
Eliminating food waste could provide 100% more food and soften the huge strain on agriculture to provide food for a population estimated to reach 9 billion by 2075.
Read about Farming First’s policies on food security here