It is estimated that 32% of all food produced throughout the world was lost or wasted in 2009. In other words, almost 1 in 3 food products intended for consumption did not end up being consumed. This data seems almost incomprehensible when faced with the fact that, in the same year, over 1 billion people were still living in poverty.
About 56% of food loss and waste occurs in developed countries. For example, Australians produce 261kg of food waste per person, per year. Industralised Asia has a 28% share, whilst South and Southeast Asia together contribute 23% to food waste. This is followed by North America and Oceania, contributing 14% of annual food loss and waste, though this region had the highest per capita calorie of food waste of about 1,500kcal per day.
Share of Global Food Loss and Waste by Region, 2009
Source: WRI analysis based on FAO
Global food loss varies with accordance to stages of the food produce chain:
- production 24%
- handling & storage 24%
- consumption 35%
Interestingly, in developed countries, the majority is lost during the consumption stage, whilst in developing countries the loss is more attributed to the 2 more preliminary stages. In many instances, agricultural products may never leave the farm. If the crop price is too low, it may be more profitable for the farmer to leave the grain on the field. Some fruits and vegetables may be damaged by the weather or pests, or simply have imperfections that are purely cosmetic. Often in poorer countries, insufficient storage or the inability to get goods to market means crops are left unused or unprocessed. The focus should therefore be on interventions “close to the fork” in developed regions and, conversely, policies “close to the farm” in the more low-income countries.
Food loss has implications for environmental, economic and health aspects. On the environmental level, food waste leads to unnecessary waste of about 4,500 million metric tonnes of GHG emissions, 173 billion cubic metres of wasted water use and 198 million hectares of land use per year.
Economical implications focus on the loss of investment that does not contribute to increased wellbeing and nutrition. In a nutshell, food waste is an expensive problem. Total food waste bears a cost of around US$700 billion for the global economy. Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa earn less than US $2 a day, and losses can total up to US$4 billion every year.
Another important impact of food loss is the loss in potential health gains from proper food handling and reduction in waste, to improve the conditions of those in need. Redistributing the amount of perfectly edible food that goes to waste is enough to feed millions of the 800 million undernourished people around the world today.
There is a call for increased attention on food redistribution or donation programs, though there are various barriers on the ease of this. There may be transportation issues between the surplus food and food rescue initiatives, legal concerns regarding food safety and economical impediments, for example on the profitability of harvesting a poorly priced crop.
Other measures to reduce food loss and waste include investment in infrastructure for transport and storage, such as new road and electrical refrigeration, and introduction of plastic storage bags, crates, and metal silos to help minimise food loss in low-income countries.
It may be easy for us in high-income countries, with an abundance of food at our fingertips to overlook this situation. However it is of increasing importance for us to recognise the problem and change the way we consume and throw out food, and to advocate for investment in poorer countries to reduce global food loss and waste.
Some links to leading global food loss and waste initiatives:
SAVE FOOD http://www.fao.org/save-food
Think.Eat.Save campaign http://www.thinkeatsave.org
Global FoodBanking Network http://www.foodbanking.org
OECD Food Chain Analysis Network http://www.oecd.org/site/agrfcn
- Plos Blogs. Can we eat our way to a healthier future (Internet). Plos Blogs; 2016 Dec (cited 2017 Feb 11). Available from: http://blogs.plos.org/globalhealth/2016/10/can-we-eat-our-way-to-a-healthier-future/
- Central Intelligence Agency (US). The World Factbook (Internet). Fairfax: Central Intelligence Agency (US); 2016 (cited 2017 Feb 11). Available from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/xx.html
- World Food Programme. Zero Hunger (Internet). Rome: World Food Programme; 2015 (cited 2017 Feb 11). Available from: http://www1.wfp.org/zero-hunger
- World Resources Institute. Can we really cut food waste in half? (Internet). Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute; 2017 Jan (cited 2017 Feb 11). Available from: http://www.wri.org/blog/2017/01/can-we-really-cut-food-waste-half