October 16 every year, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations together with the rest of the world celebrates the World Food Day. This year, the theme is “Social Protection and Agriculture: breaking the cycle of rural poverty”
The significance of this topic and the urgency to address social protection and food production comes to light when you understand that there are nearly one billion hungry people in the world and they could all be lifted out of mal-nourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted around the world. One third of all food planted and harvested globally is wasted and this costs humanity more than $750 billion and this is 6 times more than what is spent on financial aid to combat HIV/AIDS.
Global Food Waste: The Numbers
- One third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
- Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
- The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tonnes in 2009/2010).
- In developing countries, Nigeria as an example, 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. Thus, a strengthening of the supply chain through the support farmers and investments in infrastructure, transportation, as well as in an expansion of the food –and packaging industry could help to reduce the amount of food loss and waste.
- In the United States 30% of all food, worth US$48.3 billion (€32.5 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. (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 this (5.9 million tonnes or 88%) is currently collected by local authorities. Most of the food waste (4.1 million tonnes or 61%) 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.
Definition of Food Waste
We do not need a definition to understand what food waste exactly is, but it means slightly different things to some individuals, organizations and entities. A common definition for wasted food is simply food discarded or unable to be utilized but I particularly love this definition of food waste by the European Union “any food substance, raw or cooked, which is discarded, and intended or required to be discarded”
Causes of Food Waste
The causes of wasted food are numerous, and wastage occurs at the stages of harvesting, production, processing, and retailing. In 2013 it was estimated that half of all food harvested worldwide is wasted and according the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers, loss and wastage occurs in all steps in the food supply chain. Loss during production is the major cause of wastage in developing countries while in medium and high income countries food is wasted and lost mainly at later stages in the supply chain. In developed countries much food – about 100 kilograms of food per person per year is wasted at consumption.
Impact of Food Waste
It is important to consume sustainably and sustainable consumption is about achieving more with less by maximizing resource, and reducing degradation and pollution. Wasted food is wasted resources and it impacts on the environment greatly, waste land, energy, labour and capital. When we waste food, we have wasted money, we have wasted the use of chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides, all that was invested in the planting process, and we have created more rubbish, more fuel to transport it, more methane, more greenhouse effect and more negative impact on the climate. It is known that Methane is 23 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas therefore the vast amount of food going to landfills makes a significant contribution to global warming.
Eliminating Food Waste
If you have not taken much thought about how much food goes to waste from your kitchen or dinner table, then you are probably a reason hunger exists in our world. While I believe that an individual who has never stepped foot on a farm or worked in food production or retail might not be able to do too much about the food wasted on farm silos, in processing and during transportation to retail stores, I believe you can do your bit by reducing and eliminating food waste in your home. In addition is the behaviour of consumers plays a huge part in industrialized countries. Raising awareness among industries, retailers and consumers as well as finding beneficial use for save food that is presently thrown away are useful measures to decrease the amount of losses and waste.
Sustainable Development Goals and Food Waste
The second goal of the recently adopted SDGs is to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030. If this will happen. Alll hands must be on deck to make a difference.
In the fight against food waste and stopping hunger, a new movement is sweeping across Africa. It’s the “Food For All Africa Initiative”, a shared social responsibility by passionate youths to create a food recovery bank and create sustainable means of nutrition for the less privileged.
This is a call to join in preventing food waste and stop hunger. You can play your part, small or big. You can be part of the solution and not the problem. Why not explore our kitchen today and see where you might be wasting good food without even realising it, or find out ways to waste less?
Avoid food wastage. Before you throw that food away the next time, remember the about 200 million children that sleep hungry every night.
Food for all Nigeria Campaign- 08034159966
All statistics are fully referenced in Tristram Stuart, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal (Penguin, 2009)
Global Food Losses and Food Waste – FAO, 2011
The environmental crisis: The environment’s role in averting future food crisis – UNEP, 2009