I will start by letting you on some key facts about food loss I found on the website of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s website.
- 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 amounts 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 tonnes.
- Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.
- Global quantitative food losses and waste per year are roughly 30% for cereals, 40-50% for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20% for oil seeds, meat and dairy plus 35% for fish.
- Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
- The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tonnes in 2009/2010).
- 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 south-eastern Asia, each throw away only 6-11 kg a year.
Oxfam Canada has it that the world produces 17% more food per person than it did 30 years ago. So where is all the food going if we still have close to a billion people hungry and malnourished? Well, the simple answer is roughly one-third of food produced globally gets lost or wasted according to the Food and Agricultural Organization. The big question now is how does food get wasted or lost and what can be done about it?
How does food get wasted?
Thinking top of my head I would mention 3 ways – On the farm, during transportation and at the consumers’ end. Let’s take them one after the other.
- On the farm: How many people want ugly fruits and vegetables? We have food grades and standards that farm produce must pass before they are shelf-worthy. Some produce are too big, not shiny, scarred or simply not well formed. A lot of place so much emphasis on the beauty of the fruits and vegetables which has led some desperate farmers to inject produce with chemicals to increase their sizes and wash some produce with harmful chemicals to make them shiny and attractive.
- During transportation: Different farm produce require various temperatures to preserve them naturally post-harvest. Strawberries for example are very delicate and are temperature sensitive. They can be easily destroyed during transportation if the right conditions are not met. Bad road networks (especially in Nigeria) can cause trucks hauling juicy watermelons to skid, breaking loads of watermelons that could have been sent to my house (I really love watermelons).
- At the consumers’s end: This is very common in developed countries and the high income areas of developing countries. We overbuy sometimes, forget in the refrigerator and then the produce doesn’t seem fresh anymore and….away it goes! into the bin. Resources have been expended in growing, harvesting, transporting and buying these binned produce and in the landfill, it contributes to methane production which is bad for the environment.
What can be done?
- First of all, ugly doesn’t mean bad or less nutritious. Lets bring down our aesthetic standards for food. Its pushing some unfaithful farmers to coat fruits and vegetables with harmful substances.
- Commit to end food waste by starting with your grocery list. You do not need to buy everything you see. Buy what you need. Only buy in bulk when you have means of preserving them for time you will be needing them.
- Donate excesses to neighbors, charities when you realize they might go to waste.
- Make beautiful smoothies with fruits and vegetables that won’t look presentable on the plate, give some to that hungry boy down the road, his stomach and the bin would thank you.
- Better infrastructure should be provided for storage and transportation of farm produce. Good roads, refrigeration on transit, good vehicles and excellent journey management should be on any Agricultural ministry’s list.
With these, we would be in the right direction towards providing food for the world’s hungry, one country at a time.
PS: My smoothie and juice making journey started because I did not want to toss away ugly or non-plate worthy fruits!