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Improve infrastructure & Reduce Food Waste

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Hunger reduction is a complicated challenge. The World Food Program (WFO) says one of its key challenges is the lack of infrastructure. Infrastructure refers to all basic facilities and systems that support sustainable food functionality for households and businesses.  Infrastructural development, i.e. road systems and other transportation, storage, preservation facilities, electricity, communication facilities, technological skills and knowledge, as well as other information systems affect seriously to reach food security among the people. The problem is particularly severe in rural and remote regions of any country in the world.

According to various sources, about one-third of food is wasted around the world (Figure 1). This loss occurs throughout the supply chain, from the harvest to the final consumer’s plate. In most instances, ineffective infrastructure was an important reason for food waste.

Figure 1. Global food losses and waste.

Although the infrastructure conditions are better compared to developing countries, we can see food losses in developed countries.  In the United States, about 15-35% food is wasted at farm level, depending on the industry. This could be largely linked to inefficiencies in the harvesting process and storage facilities.  The retail trade sector also has relatively high rates of food loss, and overall losses amount to approximately 35 – 40 million tons, including loss at the household level. In the United Kingdom, households waste approximately 6.7 million tons of food each year, about one-third of the 21.7 million tons purchased. Most food waste is preventable and could have been consumed if better management had taken place.  Food currently being squandered for many reasons in Europe could feed 200 million people.  According to FAO sources, around 88 million tons of food are wasted each year in Europe, with associated costs estimated at 143 billion euros.

Poor infrastructural problems occupy a prominent place in developing countries. Inefficiency in processing and drying, lack of storage and inadequate infrastructure are determinants of food waste in the African region.  In sub-Saharan Africa, post-harvest food losses are estimated at $4 billion a year, which could easily be used to feed at least 48 million people. In many African countries, post-harvest losses of food cereals are estimated at 25 per cent of the total harvest. It has a tremendous impact on the basic food supply of these countries. In addition, some crops such as fruits, vegetables and root crops, post-harvest losses can be as high as 40 to 50 per cent. According to FAO sources, total food loss in Africa could feed an estimated 300 million people. In general, fruits and vegetables, along with roots and tubers, have the highest rates of waste of any food in the world. The food waste in Asia is significant as well.  For instance, China wastes 50 million tons of grain annually, estimated enough food to feed 200 million people, about one-sixth of the country’s population. India wastes nearly 40 per cent of the food produced, mainly due to fragmented food systems and inefficient supply chains. What is important is the loss that takes place even before the food reaches the consumer. The main contributors to food waste in the supply chain are waste processing, lack of cold storage facilities, process contamination, inadequate packaging, lost transport, the increase in inventories due to bad forecasts.

According to Food Price Watch report, developed countries is responsible for 56 percent of food wasted globally. It shows that supermarkets order more food than they can sell; people buy more than they need, often in response to special offers or advertising; and food is thrown away when it’s still good because people misunderstand the “sell by” labels on the packaging. People have the power to send signals to suppliers by buying smaller quantities at the grocery store, ordering less food in restaurants, or by consuming less protein, which requires more resources to produce in order to cut down the waste. Developing countries are responsible for the remaining 44% of food losses, which occur primarily in the fields because of impassable roads to markets, financial problems and inadequate storage.

In developing countries 40 per cent of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in developed countries more than 40 per cent of losses happen at retail and consumer levels. In developing countries, food waste occurs mainly at the early stages of the food value chain and can be traced back to financial, managerial and technical constraints in harvesting techniques as well as storage and cooling facilities. Strengthening the supply chain by directly supporting farmers and investing in infrastructure, transport and expansion of the food and packaging industry is critical. In mid- and high-income countries, food is wasted and lost primarily at later stages of the supply chain. Contrary to what is happening in developing countries, consumer behavior plays an important role in industrialized countries. The lack of coordination between actors in the supply chain as a contributing factor. Agreements between farmers and buyers can be useful in raising the level of coordination. Additionally, raising awareness among industries, retailers, and consumers as well as finding beneficial use for food that is presently thrown away are useful measures to decrease the amount of food waste.

What can we do..

Most of the world’s hunger-stricken people live in rural areas and work in agriculture. Funding for infrastructure, including roads, storage and localized energy grids, will help ensure the food security of the estimated 821 million people living in global hunger. Approximately one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted worldwide, which amounts to approximately 1.3 billion tons per year. Storage facilities are an essential part of ensuring food security and ending hunger. Governments should set up dedicated funds to fund storage infrastructure projects to reduce post-harvest losses. Agricultural productivity resulting from irrigation can be more than twice as productive per hectare than rainfed production. Investment in water supply, including through public-private partnerships, is essential. Access to reliable water sources contributes positively to women’s empowerment by strengthening asset ownership and control over resources, improving sanitation, creating local jobs and ensuring food security. On a broader scale, developing countries need to improve and expand infrastructure, including roads, railways, power generation, drinking water supply, heating, ventilation and storage facilities. Make it easier for consumers and suppliers to buy and sell by building better roads, storage facilities and extension of electrification. For example, some promising food waste reduction initiatives include evaporator coolers in Tanzania and India, airtight plastic storage bags for crops in Nigeria and small metallic silos in Kenya.

Most people don’t realize how much food they throw out every day – from leftover food to spoiled fruits and vegetables. The EPA estimates that in 2018, about 68% of the food waste we generated, or about 42.8 million tons, ended up in landfills. By managing food sustainably and reducing waste, we can help businesses and consumers save money, provide a bridge in our communities for those who do not have enough to eat, and conserve resources for future generations. Figure 2 shows annual household-level food waste for certain countries of the world. It underlines the high level of losses, even in developing countries where food insecurity is very high. Figure 3 shows the global picture of food wasted or thrown away without consuming. It accounts for 14% of world food production.

Figure 2. Food waste in selected countries in the world.

Figure 3. Global food waste.

Each of us must act swiftly to stop wasting food and the resources necessary to produce and transport it. Our actions, in combination with those of many others around the world, can help millions of people lift themselves out of poverty so they can lead fuller and more productive lives.

Sources:

Building roads key to combating hunger. Retrieved from https://www.euractiv.com/section/development-policy/news/building-roads-key-to-combating-hunger-study-says/

Hunger and undernourishment. Retrieved from https://ourworldindata.org/hunger-and-undernourishment

Turley, L and Uzsoki, D. (2018). IISD. Retrieved from  https://www.iisd.org/publications/financing-rural-infrastructure-priorities-and-pathways-ending-hunger

UN report. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/desa/over-820-million-people-suffering-hunger-new-un-report-reveals-stubborn-realities

Saman Janaranjana Herath
Saman Janaranjana Herath
PhD (NRE). MBA (Fin). Associate Professor, University of Mount Olive, North Carolina, USA. Writer,

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