Cutting food loss, wastage

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Last June 5, under United Nations auspices, World Environment Day 2013 was observed with the theme, “Think, Eat, Save.” Sadly very little was said about this in the national media.

Searching beneath the theme, however, discloses interesting data on global food production, distribution, and consumption — and the tremendous amount of food that’s lost and wasted yearly.

All these affect the degrees of global mass hunger, poverty, and ecological destruction, on which much begs to be done in terms of adopting appropriate national policies and programs and forging relevant enforceable international accords.

(Note: Per SWS survey, 3.9 million Filipino families experienced hunger in the first quarter of 2013.)

Consider these data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization:

• Every year 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted.
• One billion of the 7-billion world population go hungry daily; 20,000 children below 5 years old die daily from hunger.

• Global food production uses 25% of habitable land, consumes 70% of fresh water supply, causes 80% of deforestation, and generates 30% of greenhouse gas emissions that heat up the atmosphere.

• Transporting food across the globe adds to gas emissions.

Drawing from the FAO databank, the UN Environmental Program and the World Resource Institute issued last Thursday a working paper titled “Reducing Food Loss and Waste.” Among its finer findings are:

• More than 50% of the food lost and wasted in Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia (all developed nations) occur at meals. In developing countries, however, 2/3 of the food loss-wastage happens at harvesting and storage of crops.

These indicate that rich people in the developed nations profligately prepare or order meals more than double what they can consume, and throw away the excess. In the developing countries the food loss largely stems from lack of modern harvesting methods and use of poorly-built storage facilities.

• Losing 1.3-B tons of food yearly means wasting the production of croplands the size of Mexico (six times the Philippines’ land area) and wasting fresh water that could fill up 70 million Olympic-size swimming pools.

Thus, cutting by 50% that loss-wastage level would result in major savings in the use of land, water, energy, fertilizer and pesticides while boosting the drive towards global food security.

In certain developing countries, the study paper notes, food-saving measures have been devised and applied. It urges the replication elsewhere of the following:

• In Afghanistan, the use of airtight metal grain silos (introduced by FAO) reduces loss from 15-20% to only 1-2%.

• In Sri Lanka, using plastic crates instead of bags or sacks in transporting vegetables cuts loss in weight from 30% to 5%.

• In the Philippines, a different computation shows that using the same plastic crates increases the value of a kilo of vegetables by 16%.

• A teacher in Nigeria has developed a “zeer” evaporative cooler system that can preserve 12 kilos of fruits and vegetables – tomatoes and guavas, up to 20 days — without refrigeration. The device costs less than $2 (about P80).

The UNEP-WRI paper recommends these four steps:

1. Develop a common global standard for measuring and reporting food loss-wastage by both governments and the private sector;

2. Set global, national and corporate food loss-wastage targets up to 50%;

3. Double investments in means of reducing post-harvest losses in developing countries; and

4. Establish agencies and organizations in developing countries tasked with reducing food wastage.

Interestingly, Britain’s Parliament international development select committee has weighed in on the issue by urging the British people to eat less meat and go vegetarian “even for just a few meals a week.” It prods the government to start a two-pronged national campaign: encourage people for health reason to change their eating habits, and reduce food wastage as an “urgent priority.”

Such steps, the parliamentary body says, will help ease the food crisis in the developing nations, mitigate price inflation in the United Kingdom (staple food prices have risen by 33% in the last five years), and arrest the “obesity epidemic” among the people.

The select committee has issued a report, titled “Global Food Security.” It states that “the massive increase in meat consumption in rich countries in recent decades has led to spikes in the price of grain (used for animal feed), widespread deforestation, and pressure on agricultural lands.”

Increased meat consumption, it adds, was one of many factors underlying the food crisis that afflicted developing countries twice, in 2008 and 2011. Another factor on which it proposes a critical review is bio-fuels production, which competes with food crops for fertile land and water use.

Ironically, Britain has its own food crisis. Because the government drastically cut spending and truncated welfare programs, 5.8 million of its people live in “deep poverty.” Daily they struggle for food, whereas major supermarkets “generate 300,000 tons of food waste a year.”

Lately “food banks,” which collect food for charities to feed the homeless and hungry, have proliferated in Britain. Good.

Critics however assail such banks (also adopted in Canada and Australia) for buttressing “regressive policies” (of) “crisis managing” rather than instituting long-term policy interventions to solve the food-and-poverty problem.


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June 8, 2013

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