Food waste and food losses: massive issues, growing concern

Most food is wasted by consumers in industrialised countries. Photo: US Department of Agriculture
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Jun 18, 2015

by

David Valentin Schweiger (CCAFS Coordinating Unit)

This week's conference in The Hague aims to help reduce food waste and losses in the various sectors of global production and consumption. 

Food is at the core of anthropogenic climate change. This is true not only because of what and how we produce, but also because of the way we consume. A huge but often overlooked factor is what is lost and wasted along the way. Globally, about one billion people go hungry, while a third of the food produced goes to waste, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). As Vermeulen et al. 2012 found, "producing this much food accounts for 6–10% of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions."

The FAO also estimates that saving only about a fourth of the food currently wasted would be enough to feed 870 million people. Moreover, there are striking disparities in the underlying global dynamics of production and consumption. For instance, the food wasted by consumers in industrialized countries amounts to almost the same as the total food production in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Click above for more Big facts on food waste 

One thing should be sufficiently clear: We are wasting food excessively and we need to stop doing so. In this spirit and with said aim in mind, the No More Food To Waste conference is currently underway in The Hague. 

Subtitled, “Global action to stop food waste and food losses”, the conference hints at two separate yet similar issues. Food is considered wasted when it is removed from the over all supply despite being fit for consumption, or when it expires, for instance due to poor stock management, erratic economic behaviour or neglect. The problem of food waste, is predominantly an issue in industrialized countries and may be linked to a perceived over-abundance of food and culture of consumerism. 

We have an idea of the magnitude of food loss and waste knowing that the land area used to produce food that is not eaten is the equivalent to the size of China..."

Ren Wang (FAO) at Safe Food CongressAO ADG, Ren Wang at Safe Food Congress

Food loss, on the other hand, occurs predominantly in developing countries. It typically happens during the production and distribution of food and mostly because farmers lack easy access to markets or to the infrastructure and technology needed to bring food produce to consumers in time. 

What can be done to address thess challenges? China appears to have found ways of reducing unnecessary food losses. It currently manages to feed over a fifth of the global population with access to only 6 percent of global water and 9 percent of arable land, while wasting less food than the average country, as this article reports. For other examples of how to ensure a more efficient and sustainable food supply in the future, download the conference's case study brochure

The current conference, which will continue until Friday, brings together a wide range of stakeholders in the global food system to share experiences and demonstrate combined action in the food chain. The conference is hosted by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam, the FAO, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the African Union Commission (AUC).

Visit the No More Food To Waste conference webpage to stay up to date with the proceedings and to learn more about food waste and food losses and how to combat them. 

Don't stop there. Reducing food waste and losses is one of many steps necessary to ensure food security for a rapidly growing, and urbanising global population. Watch this clip for more information: