When I tell you to list all of our world’s most pressing issues, you’d probably say things like war and climate change. One issue that may not come up as much is food waste or food loss.
Food waste refers to food that is perfectly edible but is still thrown away. This is often seen in supermarkets, restaurants and our own homes. Food loss on the other hand, is produce that is either spoiled or banged up and thrown away before it reaches consumers.1 Advances in transportation and technology have not only allowed food from all over the world to be made available to the global market but have also exacerbated these issues.2Food waste and loss underpin so many other issues such as environmental degradation, food insecurity, economic losses and health security.
Around 815 million people worldwide are either starving or suffer from malnutrition. A whooping 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted annually. This is enough to feed all those people up to FOUR times over.3 In Kenya, for example, it is estimated that 1 in 3 people is food poor.4 USAID reports that 25% of children under the age of 5 suffer from stunted growth related to malnutrition. Ironically, nearly 30% of produce is lost after harvest and another 30% post-harvest.5 The rejected food is then sent to landfills because they’d rather throw it away than give it to a population that desperately needs it. Nice one Mr President.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Kenya estimates that food loss and waste costs the country up to Ksh 72 BILLION annually. The Food Waste Index Report 2021 shows that Kenyans produce about 99 kilos of food waste annually. Add to that, the recent pandemic shows a rise in low income households purchasing more non-perishable foods leaving tonnes of perishables to go to waste. Good thing Uhuru is on the case!
Despite being a large contributor to the Kenyan economy, only 4% of the national budget goes to the agricultural sector. Communities that are impacted are rarely involved in decision making, little to no regulations for farmers’ post-harvest activities and zero development in technologies related to the processing and manufacturing of foods. Lobbying groups, environmental and human rights groups are pushing the agenda forward as best as they can but statistics show that if not curbed, global per capita food waste will double by 2050, speeding up the effects of global warming.6
When food is discarded all the resources that went into it like water, land and energy are wasted too. Fresh water is precious and 25% of it is used for agricultural purposes.7Global agricultural land accounts for about 1/3 of global land deemed suitable for food production.8Of this massive portion of land, at least 20% of food being produced is wasted.9Land that is cleared for farming leads to deforestation, desertification and destruction of wildlife’s habitats. Food waste is both a cause and effect when it comes to climate change, and if food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Sustainable development goals aim to eradicate global hunger and enforce sustainable consumption. This means that governments and global organizations with the means and capacity to overview the issue are our best line of defense. The FAO states that “The creation of policies toward food loss and waste reduction requires comprehensive information as to how much and where – both geographically and along the supply chain – various foods are lost or wasted.”Just give him 5 more years. I’m sure Mr President will be done by then. It’s hard out here for a corrupt trust-fund baby you know?
The thing about food waste is that it is an issue that it feels big and impossible to change but from a government level to an individual level we all have collective responsibility. Investment and education around these issues are necessary tools to catalyse change as we work towards achieving zero hunger and shift to sustainable consumption and production.
Laura Depta, “Global Food Waste and Its Environmental Impact | Green Living,” RESET.to, 2018, <a href=”https://en.reset.org/knowledge/global-food-waste-and-its-environmental-impact-09122018″>https://en.reset.org/knowledge/global-food-waste-and-its-environmental-impact-09122018</a>.