Food waste is any food fit for human consumption that one disposes of or uses for a differing purpose either due to choice or circumstances such as food expiry. In a 2014 report, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that food waste compounds the severity of poverty because it negatively impacts hunger, “nutrition, income generation and economic growth.” An essential point of the report is that the need for decreasing food waste is a global issue and food waste occurs at every level of the food supply chain.
The Global Issue of Food Waste
In lower-income countries, the barriers to decreasing food waste include, “managerial or technical limitations in harvesting techniques, storage, transportation, processing, cooling facilities, infrastructure, packaging and marketing systems.” For middle-income to higher-income countries, food waste often occurs on the consumer side, for example, improper meal planning that leads to food wastage. In addition, policies, such as agricultural subsidies, can lead to the excess production of certain crops. Food safety regulations may also lead to the wastage of food that is still fit for human consumption.
To visualize the dizzying scale of food waste, the FAO reported in 2021 that “17% of total global food production” goes to waste. The UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021 confirms this, highlighting further that in 2019 global food waste equated to 931 million tonnes of food waste, 61% of which occurred at the household level. The report finds that “household per capita food waste generation” is similar across all nations, developing and developed. In brief, food waste is an issue that spans across class and country lines — a global crisis that requires a global solution.
How the FAO is Fighting Food Insecurity
The FAO is fighting food insecurity through education and collaboration with other governmental institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private partnerships. Among these educational endeavors, the FAOs’ SAVE FOOD initiative aims to reduce food waste in SAARC countries (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) by educating smallholder farmers on proper post-harvest management practices. Post-harvest loss occurs at high rates of 20%-40%, mainly due to a lack of awareness and knowledge, which can affect “food availability, food security and nutrition.” Especially in countries with “traditional fruit and vegetable supply chains,” namely Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, the SAVE FOOD initiative prioritizes post-harvest management training.
How the Private Sector Fights Food Insecurity
Private sector partners are addressing food waste-created food insecurity at all levels, from the production of food to its consumption. One of these partners, GrainPro, is decreasing food waste through its high-tech “GrainPro Cocoon” in Bangladesh, one of the FAO’s prioritized SAARC countries. The GrainPro Cocoon decreases food waste because it preserves dry grains, spices and seeds “in an airtight and moisture-tight container.” The containers are uniquely suitable for Bangladesh and other countries prone to flooding. GrainPro containers are easily transportable and can protect contents from flooding up to as high as a meter.
Under a Bangladeshi Department of Agriculture Extension project in partnership with the official GrainPro partners of Bangladesh, Allied Agro Industries and ACI Motors, 800 units of the GrainPro Cocoon went out to Bangladeshi farmers. Farmers who used the GrainPro Cocoon to store paddy seeds saw a “20% increase in production” due to improved seed quality, which positively impacted farmers’ income. For a country with about 48% of the population economically relying on agriculture, this continued collaboration will enable people to escape extreme poverty.
The World Resources Institute’s (WRI) 10x20x30 Initiative is a compelling development in decreasing food waste. The initiative began in 2019 by the WRI Champions 12.3 coalition, which is a joint team of “executives from governments, businesses, international organizations, research institutions, farmer groups and civil society” all committed to reducing food waste. This coalition aims to reach U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, namely to reduce by 50% “global food waste at retail and consumer levels” while minimizing “food loss during production and supply.”
In 2020, the WRI rallied 12 food retailers and foodservice providers, including “six of the world’s largest food retailers” and secured commitments from these providers to recruit 20 of their own respective suppliers to focus on achieving SDG 12.3. The commitments led to nearly 200 food suppliers globally committing to cutting their food waste in half by 2030.
A remarkable amount of progress is visible in decreasing food waste as a result of the commitments of the international community. Going forward, global participation in decreasing food waste must continue in order to reach the global goals of combating hunger and achieving zero poverty.
– Chester Lankford