Food loss & waste must be reduced for greater food security & environmental sustainability
First International Day of Awareness of Food Loss & Waste observed on 29 September 2020
29 September 2020, Rome/Nairobi/New York – At the global event marking today the first International Day of Awareness of Food Loss & Waste, the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) & their partners urged everyone to do more to reduce food loss & waste or risk an even greater drop in food security & natural resources.
Some 690 million people today are hungry & three billion cannot afford a healthy diet. Hunger has been on the rise for the past five years, & the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the food & nutrition security of up to an additional 132 million of people. On top of that, we are faced with an ecosystem decline & the consequences of climate change.
Yet, food continues to be lost & wasted. This year we have witnessed an increase in food loss & waste as a result of movement & transport restrictions due to the pandemic.
COVID-19 aside, however, each year about 14 percent of the world’s food is lost before even reaching the market. Food loss is valued at $400 billion annually – about the GDP of Austria. On top of this comes food waste, for which new estimates are coming out early 2021. When it comes to environmental impact, food loss & waste generate eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Food loss occurs from farm up to & excluding retail, whilst food waste occurs at retail, food service & household level. Causes range from poor handling, inadequate transport or storage, lack of cold chain capacity, extreme weather conditions to cosmetic standards, & a lack of planning & cooking skills among consumers.
Simply put, reducing food lost or wasted means more food for all, less greenhouse gas emissions, less pressure on the environment, & increased productivity & economic growth.
Innovation, technologies & behavioral change – key to reducing food loss & waste
“Food loss & waste is a big challenge of our time,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, urging for stronger partnerships, more public & private investments in training for smallholder farmers, technology & innovation to step up the fight against food loss & waste as “our planet is a small boat in the universe”.
“Innovative postharvest treatment, digital agriculture & food systems & re-modelling market channels offer huge potential to tackle the challenges of food loss & waste. We have just built a partnership with IBM, Microsoft & the Vatican to empower Artificial Intelligence in all these areas,” added Qu.
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, encouraged governments to make food loss & waste part of national climate strategies.
“Only 11 countries have so far included food loss in their Nationally Determined Contributions. None of them included food waste. By including food loss & waste & sustainable diets in revised climate plans, policymakers can improve their mitigation & adaptation from food systems by as much as 25 percent,” said Andersen.
Calling food loss & waste “an ethical outrage” given that so many people go hungry, António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, in a message sent in support of the Day, urged everyone to play their part in tackling this issue – from countries setting a reduction target & measuring their food loss & waste & policy action in this area being included in climate plans under the Paris Agreement to businesses taking a similar approach & individuals shopping carefully, storing food correctly, & using leftovers.
The need for everyone to come together & step up efforts to reduce food loss & waste, including through innovation, technologies & education, to shift behavioural norms away from waste, to measure & track progress, as well as work towards increasing the availability of food & reducing the environmental footprint of agricultural production – topics to be explored in depth at the 2021 Food System Summit – were echoed by speakers & panel discussion participants from the UN, European Commission, private & public sectors, agriculture ministries of developing & developed countries, farmers’, markets’ & consumers’ organisations & associations, academia & chefs.
Solutions to reduce food loss & waste
Solutions to stem food loss & waste include: good data to know where in the value chain the major hot spots of food loss & waste are; applying innovation – for example, e-commerce platforms for marketing or retractable mobile food processing systems; government incentives to bolster private sector food loss & waste action & collaboration across supply chains; investments in training, technology & innovation, including for small-scale producers; better food packaging & relaxing on regulations & standards on aesthetic requirements for fruit & vegetables; behaviours that value & make the most of food at home; redistributing safe surplus food to those in need through food banks; facilitating farmer’s access to consumers & shorter value chains through farmers markets & rural urban linkages; & investing more to strengthen infrastructure & logistics, including sustainable cold chains & cooling technologies.
In many countries a large proportion of produce is lost during transportation. To address this, FAO has introduced improved, sustainable bulk packaging (in the form of stackable & nestable plastic crates), along with good post-harvest management practice, to transport fresh produce in a number of Southern & South-eastern Asian countries. The use of crates during transport has reduced losses of vegetables & fruits by up to 87 percent. Where crates replaced single-use plastic bags, this has also brought environmental benefits. (Source SOFA 2019, p. 36)
UNEP, together with high-level coalition Champions 12.3, has developed a Target-Measure-Act approach to food loss & waste reduction. The United Kingdom, a pioneer of this approach, has achieved a 27 percent reduction in post-farm gate food loss & waste per capita by 2018 relative to its 2007 baseline, making it the first country in the world to have advanced more than halfway towards the achievement of SDG 12.3. Good data has helped the UK to make the case for action, together with an effective public-private partnership to facilitate cross supply chain collaboration, leveraging innovation in food promotion, labeling, & design, & a long-standing public behaviour change campaign, with re-doubled efforts & impacts on household food behaviours during the global pandemic. Several companies including Tesco (Central Europe), Campbell, & Arla Foods have achieved food loss & waste reductions of more than 25 percent-suggesting that achieving the target is possible for companies, too.
A new African Centre of Excellence for sustainable cooling & cold chain based in Rwanda is helping get farmers’ produce to market quickly & efficiently – reducing food waste, boosting profits & creating jobs.
Elsewhere, young entrepreneurs like Isaac Sesi – who spoke at the event – also fight food loss with innovation. Sesi & the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss at Kansas State University are providing farmers in Ghana – Isaac’s home country – with an affordable moisture meter called GrainMate, which measures the moisture content of maize & other grains, helping farmers ensure the grains are sufficiently dried & tackle the main cause of post-harvest loss in grain – insufficient drying before storage, which creates conditions for fungal growth, contamination & insect infestation.
Food loss & waste – facts & figures
- In terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the food that is lost is associated with around 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent every year.
- UNEP will publish new country level food waste estimates at retail, food service & household level in its Food Waste Index report, early in 2021, & a common methodology for food waste measurement at national level on World Food Day, October 16th 2020.
- Studies commissioned by FAO before the pandemic estimate that on-farm losses in sub-Saharan Africa for fruits & vegetables are up to 50 percent, the highest in the world. For cereals & pulses, the on-farm losses are up to 18 percent, equal highest in the world with parts of Asia.
- Reducing food loss early in the supply chain – on the farm – in countries with high levels of food insecurity is likely to yield the strongest positive result for greater food security.
- Many countries deal with the growing demand for food by increasing agricultural production without reducing food loss & waste, &, thereby, exacerbating pressure on the environment & increasingly scarce natural resources.
More about the event
The marking of the Day – under the slogan Stop food loss & waste. For the people. For the planet –took place during the 75th session of the UN General Assembly.
The event was hosted by FAO & UNEP – the agencies leading global efforts on food loss & waste reduction together with Andorra, Argentina & San Marino who were instrumental in establishing the international day through a UN General Assembly resolution adopted unanimously last year.
Keynote speakers included: Luis Basterra, Argentina’s Minister of Agriculture, Livestock & Fisheries; Maria Ubach Font, Andorra’s Minister of Foreign Affairs; Luca Beccari, San Marino’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Economic Cooperation & Telecommunications; Bekir Pakdemirli, Turkey’s Minister of Agriculture & Forestry; Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner, Health & Food Safety; Gilbert F. Houngbo, President, International Fund for Agriculture Development; Amir Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director, World Food Programme; Martien van Nieuwkoop, Global Director for Agriculture & Food, World Bank; & Chef José Andrés.
Keynote addresses were followed by two panel discussions – on food loss & waste & sustainability, & innovation.
A list of the event’s speakers & panel participants can be found here.
A video of the event can be found here.