Food is an important factor in our lives and people are living to produce and consume it. The diversification of food products, the import-exports of new products and the new production techniques have elaborated market’s exchanges! Not only the products become easier available in rich countries, they consume more and have different habits. The behavior of the consumers in developed and rich countries is playing a role in industrialized waste and loss of food.
This behavior and attitude comes from a better knowledge and consumers’ education. Back home when I was a child growing on a small farm, I have learnt from my parents that nothing is wasted and what comes from nature returns to nature. That means that we would use the leftovers and spoiled food to feed the animals or the soil. The problem of waste food started concern me even more since I moved in big cities where I perceived the lack of structures for composting and were perishable products are thrown to the bin. I had always thought that the products can be reused, recycled and reduce the waste. The agricultural waste we used to landfill to increase the soil organic matter, increasing the yields of the next year crops. It is like a self-sustainable cycle… Food waste started to become an increasing problem for the developed societies and lately this concept of” food waste and loss” has taken proportional values when FAO and local governments is struggling to achieve the food security and access to good quality products for all. Assisting in April to the 29th FAO Regional Conference for Europe in Bucharest, Romania, the main discussions focused on how to implement the international Year of Family Farming (IYFF) designated by FAO as the year of 2014 and the issue of the Food Loss and Waste (FLW) in supply chains and discussed the achievements and shortcomings of the Right for Food guidelines by FAO.
After FAO’s estimation each year approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted. This is a major problem for the public and private stakeholders that not only concern the food security targets, but the environmental footprint. Not only food waste can be measured economically, but the invisible costs are much higher, as states Senior Environment officer from FAO. According to him, the monitorization of environmental costs such as green house gases, land erosion, water use and pollinators loss amounts of another trillion USD.
Food waste contributes directly to the GHG emission and limiting the factors that generate food loss, like reducing the emissions from transportation and limiting the supply chain distance, remodeling the markets and retails, can contribute to tackling the climate change. Wasting food means not only agricultural products, but the land, water and nutrients used to produce that food. Tackling with food waste and loss will contribute to reduce the use of resources or to generate a more sustainable natural resource management. To these hidden costs are added also the social costs that impact health from pesticides, loss of livelihoods and conflicts for the natural resources, because the most vulnerable people often lack land and other access to resources generating excessive costs.
Even if it is confirmed that the food production is enough to feed all the population, the repartition of food is unequal and the most vulnerable people have to face hunger and malnutrition, facing inaccessibility to resources and market, while others are over-eating and getting obese. Therefore, it is required to work together and to raise awareness between the rural-urban populations, increase the local demand, building more productive, resilient and diverse food systems. In the South, the loss of agricultural products is encountered in the harvesting process and supply chain, but also due to poor infrastructure and stock of goods conditions as the biggest part of perishable products do not resist until the market. Another reason, and I believe it’s a major one, is that the European quality standards for these products is not met by the smallholder family farming in the developing countries. Producing deformed, but ecologically healthier bananas are not on accepted on the markets in developed countries that would import the production and so on. Physical characteristics of agricultural products are a condition for the big retailers which are trying to meet consumers’ needs.
On the other hand, we have other food waste condition in developed countries. It is estimated that in European Union the average food waste par habitant is 250 kg/year. In total, around 2 million tons of food is thrown to the garbage, either by the supermarkets or the consumers. Almost 50% of the produced food is lost each year, according to the UK Mechanical Engineers (2013). Although in developed countries the harvesting practices, transportation and stock facilities are improved, the waste is associated to the products quality and consumers’ culture and behaviors.
That is why FAO has set a new challenge: to cut the food waste and loss by 50% post-2015 agenda on sustainable agriculture. FAO considers reductions in food loss to have important implications in increasing food security. Increasing cooperation and partnerships to work together to cut food waste and loss is a major challenge for the years to come. Another important role plays the consumers behavior and habits, while sharing new technologies and innovative techniques can also help reducing valuable food quantities. There are already improvements in some countries, at local or national level doing progress which can be a good example to follow by others. To get more information, a specific conference on food waste and loss will need help later this year, hoping that GAEA will represent us there.
N.B.: Also on this topic you can participate at the food waste and loss conference in the Netherlands on 8-10 December 2014.