Wasted Food Can Feed Millions!

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Dr. Badri Prakash Ojha

As I was to put the breakfast plate in the bucket during my attendance in an international agricultural conference in Kathmandu, I saw that the side bucket was full of spilled food. The food that wasted was not served by someone else but by the eater oneself. The food one had brought was thrown away as s/he could not eat it. I was really hurt. I thought to have a research on how much ready to eat food is thrown away in the world every day. The findings of my research are as follows:

Thrown Away 

According to the finding of Stockholm International Water Institute conducted by Britt-Louise Anderson, nearly 30 per cent of all food, worth US$48.3 billion, is thrown away each year in United States of America only. 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.

Losses at the farm level are probably about 15–35 per cent, depending on the industry. The retail sector has comparatively high rates of loss of about 26 per cent, while supermarkets, surprisingly, only lose about 1 per cent. Overall, losses amount to around US$90 billion–US$100 billion a year 

United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO the food currently lost or wasted in Latin America could feed 300 million people 

FAO also says that United Kingdom households waste an estimated 6.7 million tons of food every year, around one-third of the 21.7 million tones purchased. This means that approximately 32 per cent of all food purchased per year is not eaten. Most of this (5.9 million tones or 88 per cent) is currently collected by local authorities. Most of the 4.1 million tones food waste is avoidable and could have been eaten had it been better managed.

In a survey of more than 1,600 households in Australia in 2004, on behalf of the Australia Institute, it was concluded that on a country-wide basis, $10.5 billion was spent on items that were never used or thrown away. This amounts to more than $5,000 per capita per year. Similar case can be seen in Africa too. Inefficient processing and drying, poor storage, and insufficient infrastructure are instrumental factors in food waste in Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa, post-harvest food losses are estimated to be worth US $ 4 billion per year - or enough to feed at least 48 million people.

According to Voices Newsletter, a journal of food and nutrition, in many African countries, the post-harvest losses of food cereals are estimated at 25 per cent of the total crop harvested. For some crops such as fruits, vegetables, and root crops, being less hardy than cereals, post-harvest losses can reach 50 per cent. In East Africa, economic losses in the dairy sector due to spoilage and waste could average as much as US$90 million per year. In Kenya, around 95 million liters of milk, worth around US$22.4 million, are lost each year.

Cumulative losses in Tanzania amount to about 59.5 million liters of milk each year, over 16 per cent of total dairy production during the dry season, and 25 per cent in the wet season. In Uganda, approximately 27 per cent of all milk produced is lost, equivalent to US$23 million per year. FAO calculates the food currently lost in Africa could feed 300 million people. 

If we look at Asia, statistics show that China wastes 50 million tons of grain annually, accounting for one-tenth of the country's total grain output. It is also estimated that enough food to feed 200 million people, about one-sixth of the country's population, goes to waste annually.

Losses for cereals and oilseeds are lower, about 10–12 per cent, according to the Food Corporation of India. Some 23 million tons of food cereals, 12 million tones of fruits, and 21 million tones of vegetables are lost each year, with a total estimated value of 240 billion Indian Rupees. A recent estimate by the Ministry of Food Processing of India is that agricultural produce worth 580 billion Rupees is wasted in the country each year. In Nepal, there is as high as 40 percent loss in food grains, fruits and vegetables during harvesting, handling, transportation, processing and post harvest management and storage. 

 Roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes - gets lost or wasted. Food losses and waste amount to roughly US$ 680 billion in industrialized countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries. Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food - respectively 670 and 630 million tones.

 Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food. Global quantitative food waste per year is roughly 30 per cent for cereals, 40-50 per cent for root crops, fruits, and vegetables, 20 per cent for oilseeds, meat and dairy plus 30 per cent for fish. Every year, consumers in developed countries waste almost 222 million tones which is almost as much as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa i.e 230 million tons. 

Per Capita Waste

The amount of food wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world's annual cereals crop i.e. 2.3 billion tons. Per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeastern Asia, each throw away only 6-11 kg a year.

Similarly, total per capita food production for human consumption is about 900 kg a year in rich countries, almost twice the 460 kg a year produced in the poorest regions. In developing countries, 40 per cent of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialized countries more than 40 per cent of losses happen at retail and consumer levels. At the retail level, large quantities of food are wasted due to quality standards that over-emphasize appearance. Food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labor, and capital, and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change. Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.

In developing countries, food waste occurs mainly at the 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. Strengthening the supply chain through the direct support of 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 medium and high-income countries, food is wasted and lost mainly at later stages in the supply chain. Differing from the situation in developing countries, the behavior of consumers plays a huge part in industrialized countries.

Now, let’s look on environmental aspect of the food waste. There are many ways that food can go to waste. Food gets wasted long before it gets to us. Some food goes to waste at the production stage. For example, sometimes pests can attack farm crops. Sometimes bad weather can destroy a crop yield, too. Food can also go bad when it is being transported. Finally, grocery stores often throw out food they can’t or don’t sell. Even it goes wastes due to the lack of proper post harvest knowledge especially in countryside of developing and least countries.

Food waste also heavily contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases. Food that is thrown out often goes to landfills. As it rots in the landfill, it produces a greenhouse gas called methane. Greenhouse gases are emitted in the production and transportation of food as well. Cattles that are grown as livestock produce methane. 

Environmental Costs

There are also enormous environmental costs to wasting food. For example, water is used in every stage of the food production process. People water crops. They give water to animals raised for meat. Packaging and transporting food takes water, too. 

When you waste food, all of that water also goes to waste. So does the water within the wasted food- think of a juicy apple. This wasted water is equivalent to about 170 trillion liters of water per year. According to the World Health Organization, the minimum amount of water needed per person per day is about 15-20 liters.

 If even a fraction of wasted water was saved, it could go a long way in providing people with water around the world! Wasting food wastes so much water that, if combined, it could cover all the world’s household water needs.

(Dr. Ojha is an agricultural communication expert. badrio@gmail.com)  

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