Minimise Global Food Waste

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Managing food waste is a global challenge. Food waste is everywhere, be it in developed countries or developing countries. It is an irony that on the one hand there are people who have to go to bed hungry, while on the other there are people who have excess food to waste. As per a United Nations Hunger report, there is enough food produced for everybody to be fed, but as many as 811 million people remain hungry every day. Likewise, according to a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, 1.3 billion tonnes of food worth USD 940 billion goes to waste annually. Researchers have calculated that the lost food calories represent 24 per cent of the total available food calories. 

Food loss occurs during the production and distribution stages. As per the Boston Consulting Group, one third of the food waste occurs in the production stage, resulting in a loss of USD 230 billion. Food loss is caused by many factors such as reduction in quantity or quality, disruptions in the supply chain, fluctuating demand and supply or spoilage due to adverse weather. Food waste occurs when the food intended for consumption is discarded or thrown away. Food waste occurs during preparation, sales and distribution and even consumption (for example, when not all the food served is eaten and scraps are thrown away). 

Food loss 

Food waste occurs more in developed and industrialised countries than in developing and poor countries. People in rich countries waste as much food as the entire net food produced in sub-Saharan Africa each year. In developing countries, 40 per cent of food loss occurs at the post-harvest and processing stages, while in industrialised countries over 40 per cent of food loss occurs at the retail and consumer levels. In many rich countries, food waste occurs in homes. The food cooked but not eaten but put in fridges or kitchen cabinets gets spoiled. In developing countries, food waste occurs at harvest time for lack of sophisticated technology and storage facilities. It also occurs because of pest infestations and lack of transportation and markets.  

Wasted food is so much in quantity that it can feed two billion people, which far exceeds the number of undernourished people in the world. One in nine people do not have enough food to consume. There are 793 million undernourished people in the world.  If only 25 per cent of the wasted food could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world. The incidence of hunger in the world is due to food loss along with poverty, conflict and economic downsides. Food loss also leads to the loss of natural resources such as land, water and energy. 

Food waste has adverse effects not only on efforts to eliminate hunger but also on the environment. It is said that global hunger is not about lack of food. There is enough food produced but it is a matter of how to manage the food distribution system by eliminating food loss and waste. Food waste has serious impacts on the environment. Up to 10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by wasted food. As a greenhouse gas emitter, it is the third biggest in the world after the USA and China. Wasted food also contributes to polluting water bodies. When wasted food ends up in landfills, it releases methane. Methane is more harmful than carbon dioxide. Eliminating global food waste would reduce 4.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.  

As per a United Nations report, an average Nepali individual wastes 79 kilogrammes of food annually. This rate surpasses those of both India and China. In Nepal, food waste occurs in homes owing, inter alia, to inadequacy of storage facilities. Food loss occurs in the production, distribution and storage stages. Food waste is terrible in Nepal because of atavistic social practices. Guest entertainment and hospitality are the hallmark of Nepali society. When guests are to be entertained, people tend to prepare excess food in many varieties, ensuring that there is no shortfall in food items. People tend to treat guests to lavish food so as to impress them and also to show their social status. On the other hand, people tend to overeat and waste food at feasts and festivals. Overeating may lead to unhealthy dietary patterns and engender health issues. 

On the one hand, there is excess food waste, while on the other there are hungry people and animals. Poverty in Nepal is serious. There are many people who are forced to go to bed on an empty stomach. They can be fed if wasted food is properly managed. Hotels, restaurants, party palaces and even households can give surplus food to charities, shelters or food banks.

Daunting challenge 

Managing food waste and loss is a daunting challenge. Agricultural technology, proper storage facilities, proper distribution systems, proper transportation systems and the like are required to prevent food loss. Proper storage facilities in homes can prevent food from going to the dogs. When it comes to consumption, people should change their cooking and eating patterns. Excess food should not be prepared, nor should it be eaten. People tend to throw away much food at restaurants and parties. They should improve their eating habits. 

The government, NGOs, community organisations and other stakeholders should make people aware of the importance of food and the implications of food waste on the environment, society and the economy. Reducing food waste yields economic benefits, food security and healthy food systems. It also provides social justice. After all, reducing global food waste by half is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. By reducing food waste, we can help achieve this goal.  


(Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000.)

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