The Paradox of Global Food Wastage (What can be done about it)

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Imani Dlamini
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World hunger is on the rise again: 815 million people went hungry in 2016, according to a recent United Nations Report on Food Security and Nutrition. This amounts to 11 percent of the global population, a glaring rise of about 38 million people since 2015 (WFP2017). More than 90 percent of the world’s undernourished populations come from developing countries - the key drivers of this global scourge of hunger: conflict and climate change. In fact; according to the report, out of the 815 million people going hungry, about 489 million of them were in conflict-ridden areas.

At the same time a third of all food produced in the world gets thrown or wasted – meaning about 1.3 billion tons of food does not reach people’s stomachs. The world produces more than enough food to feed everyone on earth; but the opposite is true. Food that is intended for human consumption does not reach the human stomach.

There are two key terms that are often used interchangeably that fall under ‘Food Wastage’; and they are “food loss” and “food waste”. According to Professor Suzan Oelofse, an expert in Integrated Waste Management at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa, Food loss refers to “the decrease in the quantity or quality of food”; while “food waste” covers all food which for a number of reasons, does not end up on people’s plates due to diminished quality or quantity. Food loses occur “typically in the supply chain before it reaches the consumers. It is not intentional wastage but its food that doesn’t reach the consumers”, says Dr Oelofse

Food Loss is more prevalent in developing or in low income countries where food gets lost in the early stages of the food supply chain, before it reaches the retail end of the food supply chain. In developing countries the causes of food loss are related to financial, managerial and technical limitations when it comes to the harvesting, storing, cooling, packaging of food.

Examples of infrastructural limitations could include lack of adequate drying facilities for crops such as rice, which could expose them to rodents and parasites, greatly diminishing the quality and quantity of the food. Professor Suzan Oelofse points out that in countries such as South Africa poor infrastructure such as bumpy roads and inadequate cooling systems could diminish the quality or desirability of foods at market places.

Food Waste,on the other hand, is a component of Food Loss. Food Waste is the “discarding or alternative (non-food) use of food that was fit for human consumption – by choice or after the food has been left to spoil or expire as a result of negligence.” In other words food waste occurs when food that could be eaten is thrown away or used for non-food purposes. People normally refer to food waste at the retail or consumer level of the food supply chain. For instance when you burn food, cook surplus or if anything goes “off” in your fridge; that is food wastage.

Food Wastage goes beyond the wasting of edible food; rather it is also the waste of the resources required to produce that food; namely land, water, and economic resources, etc. (FAO 2011). The Food and Agricultural Organisation estimates that the direct cost of global food waste and loss accounts for $1 trillion USD. This means when food is thrown away, so is money and essentially the livelihoods of people such as smallholder farmers who depend on agricultural production to support themselves.

Food Wastage also has a devastating impact on the environment too. It can be a major contributor to climate change, which as discussed above, is a factor in the rising levels of food insecurity in the world. A lot of food that gets thrown away gets dumped in landfills where it decomposes and releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas which is a major contributor to climate change. In fact, methane gas is more potent than greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. However Dr Oelofse says “If you compost waste… you get CO2 being released instead of methane.”

So what is being done about this?

There have been a number of organisations and initiatives set-up to deal with the challenges of food waste and food loss in developed and developing countries. The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), has through The Save Food: Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction, partnered with a series of regional and international organisations and stakeholders involved in various stages of the Food Supply chain to deal with the problem. The initiatives seek to “drive innovations, promote interdisciplinary dialogue and spark off debates in order to generate solutions, across the entire value chain “from field to fork” (SAVE FOOD).

An example of a project that SAVE FOOD was involved in was in an Mango project in Kenya. SAVE FOOD found that “Approximately 300,000 tons of the mangoes grown in Kenya never make it to market”. A significant amount of the fruit spoils before harvest because farmers lack resources to harvest on time, or the fruit goes bad due to improper storage, and transport facilities.

SAVE FOOD and other partners funded a local start-up that was involved in drying the mango before it goes bad, and packaging and selling it as dried mango. This demonstrates the manner in which food waste and loss can be alleviated with the help of global organisations and local players in the food supply chain.

In essence in a world where 1 in 9 people goes hungry, we cannot afford to be wasting food. Food Wastage is unnecessary phenomena in a world where close to 1 billion people go hungry. It is imperative for people to get involved to solve the issues.

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