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STOP FOOD WASTE: THE FUTURE IS AT RISK, THINK 2050

STOP FOOD WASTE: THE FUTURE IS AT RISK, THINK 2050

There has been growing concern globally on the way we live in different regions across the world and the global crisis that looms if current individual and collective actions are not corrected.

Food waste or food loss is any food material that is discarded or unable to be used. In the context of this presentation, we will need to refer to this as not been used judiciously. It is also important to note that food waste comes in chain and in cycles which affect every region of the world in line with their lifestyles, standard and local belief systems.

Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year (approximately 1.3 billion tonnes) gets lost or wasted. This is an alarming loss percentage that we all should get worried about and understand food is not just the cost of the food wasted; but cost of other variables in both direct and indirect cost.

Every year, consumers in rich and developed countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes). If this volume of food wasted can be saved, it means it could almost feed a sub-region in Africa for a whole year and this gives me a whole lot of reasons to get even worried the more. 222 million tonnes of food waste is no joke.

In developing countries food waste and losses occur mainly at early stages of the food value chain and can be traced back to financial, managerial and technical constraints in harvesting techniques as well as storage and cooling facilities. This is a peculiar food waste control gap that is peculiar to developing countries but this can be strengthened if farmers and food producers can have the confidence and support of government through investment in infrastructures such as good storage facilities, transportation for moving food and food products, expansion of food and packaging industries, reliable electricity, all these put together can reduce considerably the amount of food loss and waste. Invariably, the food waste in developing countries is more in the production chain than in consumerism.

This does not ultimately rule out the fact that we also have food waste at the consumer’s stage in developing countries. This is mostly associated with cultural belief systems and life style of the people. I live in Nigeria in Africa where visitors must be fed before they leave irrespective of whether they are truly hungry or not. We most times serve such visitors more than enough food that they could ever finish, we end up having leftovers that may never be eaten but thrown to the dust bin. What we need to know is that as we are busy wasting those food, there are millions of children across the world that have no food to eat and languishing in malnutrition. Food is too good to be wasted, we need to stop this trend and we need to reduce food waste now so we can prepare for possible future food shortage.

In medium and high income countries, food is wasted and lost mainly at later stages in the supply chain. Differing from the situation in developing countries, the behavior of consumers plays a huge part in industrialized countries. This dynamics could be seen to have some underlying social economic status factors, people shop for and most times cook more food than they need and bulk of these food never get to the dinner table. Most potent way of dealing with food waste is to reduce its creation. Consumers can reduce their food waste output at points-of-purchase and in their homes by adopting some simple measures good enough to stop food waste no matter how small. This includes planning when shopping for food and spontaneous purchases are shown as often the most wasteful. Proper knowledge of food storage reduces foods becoming inedible and thrown away, infrastructures also play a key role in this direction.

In the United States 30% of all food, worth US$48.3 billion, is thrown away each year. It is estimated that about half of the water used to produce this food also goes to waste, since agriculture is the largest human use of water (70%). (Jones, 2004 cited in Lundqvist et al., 2008).

United Kingdom households waste an estimated 6.7 million tonnes of food every year, around one third of the 21.7 million tonnes purchased. This means that approximately 32% of all food purchased per year is not eaten. Most of the food waste (4.1 million tonnes) is avoidable and could have been eaten had it been better managed (WRAP, 2008; Knight and Davis, 2007).

In the USA, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions. Methane is one of the most harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Methane is 23 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. The vast amount of food going to landfills makes a significant contribution to global warming, this clearly states that the impact of food waste has both environmental effect through the use of chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides, more fuel used for transportation, land use and cost of all these which has an overall financial impact.

We also need to consider other associated impact food waste has on water. We already know that agriculture already has the largest human use of water which is put at 70% (around 550 billion cubic metres of water is used to grow crops that never reach the dinner table), before we waste food we should also think of the impact this waste is going to have on water also.

In a document released by Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) “Food Waste Footprint” it was stated that under current production and consumption trends, global food production must increase 60% by 2050 in order to meet the demands of the growing world population. The current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to increase by 1 billion over the next 12 years and reach 9.6 billion by 2050. This means by 2050, we have an extra 2.4 billion mouths to feed and this will also place more demand on water needed for food production.

Food waste comes in different stages and cycles which range from:

  • Food waste in harvesting processes which is more in mechanised farming
  • Food waste through economic factors such as regulation and standard which leads to selective harvest that leaves food that does not meet market standard unharvested and left to waste in the farm.
  • Food waste through processing otherwise known as post harvest loss with loss ration relatively unknown and difficult to estimate
  • We also have a level of food waste in post harvest stage and this is more evident in storage. This loss is classified into two namely:
  1. Quantitative loss: This loss is attributed to pest and micro-organisms that affect the stored food which leads to reduction in quantity eventually available for human consumption.
  2. Qualitative loss: This is more in areas that have a combination of ambient heat and humidity which encourages the breeding of pest and micro-organism. This reduces the nutritional value, caloric value and edibility of crops. In a market that has standard and effective regulation, this food could also be affected and perhaps have little or no market value and ultimately disposed as waste.
  • We also experience high level of food waste through retail stores where large quantities of food are thrown away. Usually, this consists of items that have reached their either best before, sell-by or use-by dates. These foods are destroyed by retail stores. It is important to note, these retails stores also shift the food waste to consumers by sales strategy on products with low shelve life or about to expire. Such strategies include 50% price reduction or buy-one-get-one-free, this attracts buyers to buy more than they need or buy what they do not even need which ends up most times as waste in dust bins
  • Suppliers to retail stores also produce or stock more food and food products than would be needed for supply to these stores based on contractual agreement, the excess that are perishable are afterwards thrown away.

When we weigh issue of food waste in several balances it does not favour the world in any way and changing the trend needs individual contribution. You need to take a personal pledge while I take mine irrespective of the part of the world we differently live in, we need to stand for this and conscientiously adopt food saving strategies for the sake of the future of the world. Children in different parts of the world are ravaged by poverty and hunger, the absence of relative peace due to widespread of wars and regional conflicts across Africa and some other parts of developing regions also lead to a number of children being orphaned. We also need to understand the concept of globalization which has removed trans-border barrier which leads to ease of migration by citizens of different countries that are either hit by national conflict or poverty. There are currently 9.7 million worldwide refugees according to United Nations High Commission for Refugee and these people take refuge in different countries or cities and remember we need food to feed this mass of people.

When you take a position to contribute to the global campaign against food waste in your country and we all do same in our different countries, we would make the world a better place. No one individual can do this alone, when we all come together it means we all have the strength to make it work. If one can save a plate of meal to feed one and another saves a plate of meal to feed another, we will together be able to feed our growing population through the collective efforts of you and I. This is the way forward; it is the right thing to do.

Take a stand today and make it count, our collective decision is an investment for a sustainable global population.

References

http://www.fao.org/nr/sustainability/food-loss-and-waste/en/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_waste

http://www.unep.org/wed/quickfacts/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IoCVrkcaH6Q

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Ehi Iden

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Ehi Iden editor