January 25, 2013

A World of Waste

food waste, agriculture, crop lossFood loss and waste has been a hot topic the past couple of weeks. A new report by the UK-based Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not, estimates that 30-50% of all food produced is wasted in harvesting, storage, transportation, retail, and consumption. One of the main messages of the report was not the quantity of wasted food that goes into landfills or languishes on fields, but rather that the product of this waste is inefficient use of resources – land, water, energy. Yield per acre may be high, but if all of the systems, regulations, and behaviors are not in line for the post-harvest stages, the practices in field may be for naught.  And while developed nations mostly experience this waste in the post-processing and consumer stages, the losses in developing countries  occur primarily at the farmer/producer level due to inefficient harvesting, poor infrastructure and transportation.

Yet the fact that there is this high level of waste in the food system also means there is considerable opportunity to realize gains for both the hungry people in the world and the natural resources being used to grow crops. The Think.Eat.Save campaign launched on Tuesday by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), among other partners, specifically seeks to address the issue of waste along the entire chain of food production and consumption. The campaign involves stakeholders at multiple levels in thinking about and acting on ways to reduce food waste, focusing attention on consumptive behaviors.

However, to address the institutional and infrastructural challenges that face developing countries’ food supply chains, FAO and Messe Düsseldord launched the SAVE FOOD initiative. This effort targets developing countries in Africa and South Asia (currently piloting in Kenya), evaluating the magnitude of food losses, the main causes, and the cost- effectiveness of food loss prevention measures specific to four food supply chains (bananas, dairy, fish, and maize). In this context, more coordinated regional planning and policy that supports storage, transportation, and markets could be instrumental in ensuring that sustainable production also leads to sustainable livelihoods and efficient distribution of food.

Read more:

Half of all food produced is wasted. New Agriculturist.
Up to half of world’s food goes to waste, report says. Reuters AlertNet.
Food Waste Infographic. CNN.

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