Nearly a third of all food produced in the world goes uneaten each year, an amount that costs the global economy $940 billion and emits 8% of planet-warming greenhouse gases. A new report Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Setting a Global Action Agenda, by the World Resources Institute, released on 29 August, lays an agenda to overcome the world’s food loss and waste problem.
Goals to end food loss
The report was released at the World Food Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark to help meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, contribute to the Paris Agreement on climate change and sustainably feed the planet by 2050. It will guide businesses, governments and society to play an active role in tackling food loss and waste.
The UN set a global goal to cut food loss and waste in half by 2030. Andrew Steer, President of the World Resources Institute, says there’s more public and private sector activity than ever with 30 of the world’s largest global food companies setting targets to reduce food loss and waste, but we’re still falling short in major areas. “Halving food loss and waste by 2030 is critical if we’re to feed the world without destroying the planet. The three-pronged agenda we’re urging, gives the world a blueprint for success with specific action items everyone must take now to combat waste,” he says.
Closing the gap
Halving food loss and waste would close the gap between food needed in 2050 and food available in 2010 by over 20%. It would avoid the need to convert an area the size of Argentina into agricultural land and would lower greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year by 2050, equivalent to more than the energy and industry related emissions of Japan.
Studies find the world experiences significant levels of food loss and waste with losses ‘near the farm’ predominant in lower-income regions and waste ‘near the plate’ predominant in higher-income regions. The report calls on everyone to play their role in tackling food loss and waste in a three-pronged approach.
Causes of food waste
There are a number of ‘underlying drivers’ leading to causes of food waste which are technological, managerial, behavioral or structural. Immediate reasons relate to concerns about food safety or suitability for consumption or there being no perceived use or market for it.
This may be due to deterioration or suboptimal quality or issues such as the food’s appearance, excess supply and seasonal production fluctuations. Collaboration between actors is crucial and a ‘business case’ must be made to motivate actors so they see reducing food waste in their self-interest.
A three way approach
Governments and companies should follow an approach of ‘Target- Measure-Act’, aiming to halve food waste by 2030, measuring how much and where food is being wasted and acting on hotspots. Everyone in the food supply chain should immediately implement sector-specific ‘To-Do’ lists.
Crop farmers could engage customers to explore changes in quality specifications enabling more of what is harvested to be sold; packing houses could build near-farm facilities to convert unmarketable crops and by-products into value-added products; and retailers could educate consumers about better food management such as how to store food correctly.
Governments and business leaders should pursue 10 ‘scaling interventions’ to accelerate impact of sector-specific actions. The interventions tackle food waste across the supply chain, target hotspots, help set policy and financial conditions for success.
Multiple interventions needed
A number of interventions are needed and vary between countries, depending on the level of economic development. Increase the number of country-level public private partnerships dedicated to achieving SDG 12.3.
The Target-Measure-Act at country level should align with public policy, private sector action and farmer-to-consumer behaviour. Launch a voluntary campaign where 10 corporate power players commit to the Target-Measure-Act and engage their own 20 largest suppliers to do the same.
Help farmers reduce food losses during production and storage. Kickstart a collaboration among storage providers, cold chain alliances, financiers and governments to get income-sensitive, climate smart storage technologies to farmers and distribution networks around the world.
Growing momentum to end food loss
Leverage latest findings of behavioral science, engage campaigns, social media and religious communities to make wasting food as unacceptable as littering. Use sector led programs to tackle food loss from beef, to dairy and rice head on.
Develop funds and financing products to innovate and scale up enterprises, technologies and programs to reduce food waste. More research is needed to answer ‘next generation’ questions that refine food loss reduction strategies and advance implementation of the report.
Momentum is growing, but the world has more to do. Only 11 years remain to achieve the targets of the SDGs and food loss is still pervasive. With worldwide participation, we might realize a future where no food fit for consumption goes to waste.