Global Food Waste

Today, 789 million people — one in nine — are food insecure or undernourished. However, one-third of the food produced annually — 1.3 billion metric tons — is wasted. This adds up to $990 billion in yearly economic loss worldwide due to food waste. Two initiatives, YieldWise and SAVE FOOD, are aiming to reduce global food waste, particularly in developing nations.

In 2016, The Rockefeller Foundation launched YieldWise, a $130 million project, with a focus on halving global food waste by 2030. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. (FAO) partnered with Messe Düsseldorf to launch the SAVE FOOD program. Here is a closer look at both of these initiatives.


YieldWise will initially focus on fixing the broken food chain in Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania, where approximately half of all crops grown are wasted. Collectively, 70% of citizens in these three countries work in the agricultural sector.

The initiative focuses on four pillars. First, YieldWise links smallholder farmers to markets by facilitating agreements between producers and buyers like Coca-Cola and Cargill. Next, farmers are connected with technology that combats food spoilage, like metal silos provided by the government of Tanzania. YieldWise invests in technology and financial models that extend the shelf-life of food and helps manufacturers promote solar-drying and cold storage units. Finally, the program increases accountability for global businesses by creating tracking tools, so corporations can measure the waste within their supply chains.

The Rockefeller Foundation intends to increase YieldWise’s sphere of influence to include developed countries such as the U.S. and Europe, where food waste occurs on the consumer level. Buyers in developed countries waste approximately 222 million tons of food per year. The entire net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa is only 230 million tons per year. Thus, the developed world wastes almost as much food as is produced in the Sub-Saharan region.

So far, YieldWise has impacted nearly 40,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania and 16,400 metric tons of produce have been sold by smallholder farmers that have been connected to markets through this program.


Similarly, the FAO and Messe Düsseldorf have created an initiative focused on spreading awareness about food waste. SAVE FOOD engages over 900 partners worldwide in developing programs to promote waste reduction.

SAVE FOOD has implemented four major actions to combat global food waste. First, the initiative has formed a worldwide media campaign to raise awareness of the aggregate impact of waste and to circulate solutions. Second, the project has mobilized public and private partnerships to collaborate and develop widespread initiatives. Third, the program leverages field studies and cost-benefit analyses to determine which interventions provide the greatest returns on investment and how best to fix political and regulatory policy. Finally, SAVE FOOD provides anti-waste capacity-building support and training to actors in the food chain.

One of SAVE FOOD’s projects aims to reduce post-harvest waste and improve the quality of crops in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri-Lanka. Poor packaging and storage, little post-harvest infrastructure and improper handling results in crop losses between 20 and 44% in these three countries. Specialists trained in post-harvest practices will extend teachings to actors in the food chain, such as small farmers and farm groups. The overall aim of the project is to reduce post-harvest losses by improving the quality and extending the shelf-life of fresh produce.

Looking Toward the Future

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion people. Feeding this number will require a 70% increase in food production. To accommodate a growing population, the current global agricultural system must be adjusted to maximize efficiency and prioritize the growth of sustainable practices.

More than half of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals touch upon food availability and nutrition. Minimizing global food waste, particularly in areas with vulnerable populations, works toward achieving these goals. Innovative initiatives such as YieldWise and SAVE FOOD have the potential to improve food security worldwide by redirecting wasted food to undernourished populations and profits to smallholder farmers.

Katherine Parks

Photo: Flickr