Food security and nutrition is currently of global concern, so much so that it has been incorporated in the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Sustainable development goal number 2 states that: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Despite this, it is estimated that a third of food produced is lost and wasted; in sub-Saharan Africa 30-40% of food produced is wasted. Food loss refers to the decrease in the quantity or quality of edible food (food meant for human consumption) and it occurs throughout the supply chain, from production stage down to the household level. An example is when some produce accidentally fall off on to the road during their transportation to the market. Food waste on the other hand is the loss of food or produce at the consumer level (You), this may be due to it being discarded or left to spoil or expire. Loss and wastage occurs during five stages; production, post-harvest handling and storage, processing, distribution and consumption at retail and household level.
truck waste from a market. (source; https://musings4progress.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/food_waste.jpg)
What causes loss and wastage?
Harvesting methods/techniques – this maybe in terms of premature harvesting triggered by need for money or due to food deficiency. This results in a decreased nutritional value of the harvested crop and hence may get discarded and wasted. This also results in economic loss.
Transportation – the extent of this is determined by two aspects; infrastructure and mode of transportation of the produce/crops. Most products (fruits, fish, and vegetables) are perishable hence need a good and cool (refrigerated) mode of transportation to ensure their continued freshness. But most of the time this is not the case, trucks are not well fitted for transportation and due to the hot humid climate especially in sub-Saharan Africa, leads to spoilage and rotting. Also poor roads increase the transportation time further promoting food loss and waste.
Processing – processing facilities in developing nations mostly are few and this due to the seasonal production of especially food and other products. In Kenya, 78% of the country’s food is from farming and at the same time, 98% of this is rain fed. This means that our food production is seasonal depending on the rainy seasons as well. This does not encourage the set-up of processing facility and hence during harvesting season, the few available are overwhelmed and consequently a lot of rotting and waste occurs.
Market systems – most markets in the country are often overcrowded and unsanitary resulting in massive wastage.
uncollected foodwaste at wakulima market, Nakuru county (source:http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/images/wednesday/hetuvczct3j7r36wt55b93cdebabc0.jpg)
Rejection of produce due to its perceived appearance – this is in regard to an acceptable size, shape, weight which is thought to reflect on the quality of the produce. This therefore, results in wastage of the rejected otherwise good produce.
What are the effects?
Food loss and waste results in a huge negative impact on our environment, this is through resource wastage and contributing to climate change. A lot of valuable resources go into food production, these include; water, tones of water is used throughout the entire supply chain, land and energy and it’s all for nothing if the food goes to waste. FAO estimates that 97% of food waste goes to landfills, this breaks down to release methane gas, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Methane gas contributes more to climate change than carbon dioxide; it is around 21-25 times more potent.
Reduction in food availability and nutritional value results in food insecurity, creating a major set-back in efforts to increase resilience in nutrition and food production. The impact of this is mostly felt in rural set-ups.
Loss and wastage also translates to economic losses; FAO estimates that the value of food lost translates to US$ 1 trillion annually. A lot of money goes to waste impacting the economic productivity of a nation. Another way to look at it is the amount put in planting, harvesting, processing all translates to no value when waste occurs.
Reducing food loss and waste;
One approach to reducing food waste is through the sustainable food systems approach, which takes into account every stage of the food supply chain. It also takes into account cost-effective and green ways to deal with the wastes such as reuse for fodder or recycling as compost.
Another way is for the government to play its part and ensure proper infrastructure, storage and processing facilities and improving market facilities. Raising awareness on the impacts and solutions will also go a long way in curbing the problem. Also promoting appropriate policies and strategies to reduce wastes and also promote research efforts, knowledge builds capacity.
A third way is through your/public input;
i. Understanding that the quality of a food product is not determined by its cosmetic appearance but rather its nutritional value and taste. You as a consumer have the power to influence quality standards of produce and hence reduce food loss and waste of ‘undesirable’ but otherwise quality produce.
ii. Food handlers and operators should ensure high standard agricultural and hygienic practices so as to maintain quality and minimize waste.
iii. Attitude change is crucial; every action whether perceived small results in a great impact. Participate in public awareness and voluntary initiatives so as to help change people’s attitude in the current food waste situation.
Another way is through private-public partnerships and collaboration to ensure efficient use of resources and efficient handling at each stage and also proper education of farmers.
We should borrow a leaf from traditional rural set-ups where it is unacceptable to throw away and waste food. Also to buy smaller amounts of perishable foods such as fruits, fish and meat products, at a time. It is a collective effort that starts with individual efforts.