Why The International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste (IDAFL) matters

Every day, we waste good food. Globally, about one-third of all food produced for human consumption is either lost or wasted. This amounts to around 1.3 billion tons every year that is wasted.

While enough food is produced to feed the world, more than three billion people worldwide do not have access to healthy food. Nearly 690 million suffer from hunger, while two billion consume unhealthy diets that cause micronutrient deficiencies and contribute to a substantial rise in diet-related obesity and noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

As the world’s population grows and incomes rise, there will be greater demand for food. But to meet this growing demand for food, the global agri-food system needs to change. The International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste (IDAFL), is an important call to action for everyone in the food system to work together to cut food loss and waste for a more sustainable agri-food system.

The causes of food loss and waste

So, what causes food loss and waste (FLW)? In short, many things. One of the main causes is inefficient agri-food systems. From production to consumption, food waste occurs in our food systems.

There are many direct causes of FLW. They include inadequate resources in production, poor scheduling and timing of harvesting operations, less efficient harvesting and handling practices, and substandard storage conditions and temperature management around perishable products.

Then there are the secondary causes. These include inadequate equipment, transport, and storage capacity, inefficient organization, coordination, and communication between food supply chain actors, and inadequate infrastructure.

There are systemic causes too, which happen when the structures that enable food to be produced and delivered to consumers break down or are inefficient. This includes inadequacies in the institutional, policy, and regulatory frameworks that are required to coordinate actors, enable investments, and support the adoption of improved practices along the food supply chain. Emergencies and crises such as pandemics, natural disasters, and conflicts can disrupt food supply chains and can also lead to increased levels of FLW.

The impact of FLW

The impact of food loss and waste is severe on many fronts. FLW takes a huge toll on the economy. The annual market value of food that is lost or wasted globally is estimated to be hundreds of billions of dollars. FLW can also lead to a lower gross domestic product (GDP) in the agriculture sector. And the economic costs of FLW for households are severe. Money spent on food that is thrown out is also felt by households, as well as by businesses along the food supply chain.

Food loss and waste also take a significant toll on the environment. It contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and represents a waste of resources used in food production, such as land, water, and energy. FLW is responsible for an estimated 8 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions and consumes one-quarter of freshwater used by agriculture each year. Food that is lost or wasted also uses significant expanses of land, degrades natural ecosystems and contributes to biodiversity loss. Producing excess food also means more CO₂ emissions being released, which worsens the effects of climate change.

FLW can impact food security and nutrition. It does this by reducing the global and local availability of food by limiting food access for those food supply chain actors who face FLW-related economic and income losses. It can also result in unsustainable use of natural resources on which future food production depends. FLW further impacts food quality and nutrient losses along food supply chains and the stability of food supplies.

The way forward

What can we do to tackle this problem? For starters, as the world’s population continues to grow, our challenge should not be how to grow more food but how to reduce the food we already lose and waste.

To make our agri-food systems more sustainable, we must focus on reducing food loss and waste. Investing in climate-smart innovations, technologies, and infrastructure to reduce food loss and waste is key to increasing efficiency and reducing food system emissions. Reducing food waste is one of the most impactful climate solutions we can adopt.

We should also embrace the circular economy. By applying circular practices, lost and wasted food can be converted to compost or used to produce biogas, which avoids harmful methane emissions. To do this though, we need good governance, human capital development, collaboration, and partnerships to maximize the positive impacts of reducing food loss and waste.

There are also better storage methods. Using simple, low-cost storage methods can drastically cut food loss, especially for small-scale farmers in the Global South, who frequently lose food to pests, spoilage, and transportation damage. For example, a system developed by researchers at Purdue University in which grain is stored in three interlocking plastic bags locks out pests and keeps grain fresh for months. Even using a plastic crate instead of a plastic sack during transport can dramatically cut losses by preventing bruising and squashing.

If we want to achieve the goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we need to transform our agri-food systems. Through its programs, MEDA is committed to achieving the UN’s SDGs by creating linkages among key actors in the global agri-food system. These linkages enhance agriculture productivity, encourage producers to use efficient technology for value addition and storage, and reduces post-harvest losses along the entire agri-food system. This approach can also create decent work for thousands of people and uplift entire families and communities.

By reducing production costs and increasing the efficiency of food systems, it can improve food security and nutrition, contribute to environmental sustainability, and reduce FLW hunger and malnutrition that will benefit future generations. We must reduce food loss and waste for the well-being of the people and the planet.

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  • Zakaria Isshaku, Ph.D.

    Technical Specialist II, Market Systems. Zakaria is MEDA’s Senior Technical Specialist for Market Systems Development. An expert in building transformative agri-food market systems, he brings almost twenty years of experience in the international development sector. As a scholar, he is a published author in academic journals. Zakaria has broad expertise in project management, market research, sustainable development, market analysis, and international development, capacity building, and climate change science.

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