It’s estimated that about 1/4 of the world’s food is lost each year. (In the U.S., those figures are higher; it’s estimated we waste about 40% of our food). Globally, the issue of food waste is complex: some food is lost to inefficient harvesting, improper or inadequate storage, as well as being wasted in the kitchen.
Some experts say if we could halve food waste, we could feed an extra billion people. And that food is needed; a recent global study on food security issued by the UN’s Food and Agriculture organization reveals that despite reducing hunger globally, one in every nine people on the planet still experiences food insecurity. If we can reduce food waste, we can reduce hunger.
But doing so will require a recognition that the causes of food waste vary from nation to nation…and thus the solutions may differ. It will require investment, a combination of strategies and concerted international action to effect real change.
“In the rich world, the focus is on food wasted by the consumer. This makes sense: more than half of the rich world’s losses take place in its kitchens (basically because we can afford it).
In Britain, for example, the greatest waste is in salads, vegetables, and fruits – luxuries when compared with the cheap calories contained in the grains and tubers consumed throughout the developing world. Smaller households in rich countries waste more per person, because it is harder to put everything to use, while richer households add waste when they can afford to buy extra “just to be on the safe side”.
By contrast, the world’s hungry poor waste very little, simply because they cannot afford to. In Africa, daily food waste averages 500 calories per person – but consumers account for only 5% of this loss. More than three-quarters of the waste occurs well before the kitchen, in inefficient agriculture, because birds and rats eat crops during harvest, for example, or pests spoil grain stores.”
A critical issue that must be addressed in developing nations is a lack of infrastructure.
“If there are no proper roads linking fields to markets, farmers cannot easily sell their surplus produce, which may then spoil before it can be eaten. Improving road and rail capacity enables farmers to reach buyers – and fertilizer and other agricultural inputs to reach farmers. Supplying reliable electricity permits grains to be dried and vegetables to be kept cool.”
Experts from the International Food Policy Research Institute (@ifpri) “estimate that the overall cost of approximately halving post-harvest losses in the developing world would be $239 billion over the next 15 years – and would generate benefits worth more than $3 trillion, or $13 of social benefits for every dollar spent.”
“This would make food more affordable for the poor. By 2050, better infrastructure could mean that 57 million people – more than the current population of South Africa – would no longer be at risk of hunger, and that about four million children would no longer suffer from malnutrition. Most of these gains would be in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, the world’s most deprived regions.
But there is an even better investment. We can achieve three times the economic benefits, and even larger reductions in the number of people at risk of hunger, if we focus on improving food production rather than just on preventing food losses.”
And that means more investment in agricultural research. (Other experts agree).
As Lomborg points out, hunger is a complex issue. But by investing more in infrastructure and research, we could make enormous strides in solving the problem.