Reducing Food Loss & Waste: An urgent call to action

UN FAO and UN Environment Programme recognized September 29 as International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste #FLWDay

The contradiction of today’s global food system is that while just shy of one billion people are suffering from food insecurity, 31 percent of the world’s food is either lost between harvest and retail or wasted into the trashcans of numerous households, retailers, and restaurants. Food wastage (both supply chain loss and consumer waste) represents a monetary value of over $2.6 trillion USD per year, including $700 billion USD of environmental costs and $900 billion USD of social costs. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recognized International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste this week, which calls on both the public and private sectors to move forward with intuitive and innovative approaches to transform the global food system into one that is more resilient.

The consequences of food loss and waste are severe. They are undermining the sustainability of our food system and are directly linked to climate change. Globally, food loss and waste combined accounts for up to 10 percent of all greenhouses gas (GHG) emissions. In the United States alone, consumer food waste creates a carbon footprint greater than that of the airline industry. If we widen our lens, the resources that go into food production including water, labor, transportation, and energy are additionally lost when food is thrown away rather than consumed. This is not a good use of any country’s time nor resources. But the biggest burden yet still falls on the environment. Climate change is the world’s number one problem and right now, a key solution to address it is through reducing food loss and waste.

We need to rethink our food systems and we need to do it quick. The urgency of food loss and waste is unparalleled as population growth rises exponentially to 10 billion by 2050. If we tackle these issues alone, an additional two billion people will have access to food. Policymakers and businesses alike need to call food loss and waste to the forefront of their political agendas. Each and every one of us can restyle our lifestyles to contribute to the solution of resilient food systems.

Are you interested in taking action on a personal level to help mitigate this crucial threat? First, it is important to understand the difference between food loss and food waste because each requires its own set of solutions.

Food Loss

Food loss refers to food that is spoiled, lost, or incurs reduction of quality or value between harvest and the markets — meaning food never has the opportunity to reach the table. This typically takes place during various stages in the supply chain, including production, postharvest processing, storage, and distribution.

High amounts of food loss are much more prevalent in developing countries, and in particular, rural areas, where the majority of food production is conducted by smallholder farmers who lack access to affordable and accessible technologies to mechanized labor. This means that much of the harvest is lost or contaminated before it can be processed or spoiled due to limited storage capacity. Depending on crop, anywhere from 10-50 percent of smallholders’ yields can be lost between harvest and consumption.

At Bountifield, we strive to address this problem by equipping rural entrepreneurs and farmers with the right tools to decrease food loss, improve output and increase local food supply, leading to stronger food security in their communities and beyond. Switching from processing by hand to using appropriate technology helps to significantly reduce food loss by allowing farmers to process more of their crops in a fraction of time.

Food Waste

While the amount of food loss is relatively low in many Western countries, food waste is typically quite high and extremely common. Waste refers to food that has reached the market, is of good quality, and is ready to be consumed, but is otherwise discarded. This takes place in households, retail, restaurants, and other food services where consumption does not happen due to excess buying, overcooking or forgotten expiration dates, among various other reasons. In the United States for example, between 30-40 percent of the food supply is estimated to be wasted. This is approximately 133 billion pounds of food, valued at $161 billion USD.

How can you address this problem?

As the FAO states, “there is never room for food loss and waste!” Finding ways to make sure that more of our food is consumed and especially accessible to those who live with hunger, is a vital way to improve the health of people and our planet. While the problems with food system might look different around the globe, it is a worldwide issue and one that will require everyone to participate in creating sustainable change. If you are inspired to protect the planet and promote resilient food systems through minimal life changes, join one of our “World Food Day Challenge” this October as we celebrate Bountifield’s fall fundraiser “She Feeds Africa, She Feeds the World!”

Support Resilient Food Systems in Africa

At Bountifield, we focus on solutions that drive equitable and sustainable change to generate resilient food systems that work for people and the environment. This includes improving access to postharvest technologies to reduce food loss and to increase the supply of nutritious food available at markets. With a gift to Bountifield, you are helping us create more access to the much-needed resources to greatly reduce food loss in rural Africa. Join us today and be part of a movement to RETHINK food systems to work better for everyone, for more resilient and equitable access to nutritious food.