Food Production and Food Losses


People in all over the world produce their foods in their own peculiar way and system of production. The way an American farmer grows food compared with their Ethiopian counterparts are beyond comparison. The number of people who are engaged in agriculture in America is said to be only three percent of the total population while 87pct of the Ethiopian population are agriculturalists. However, the American farmers are net food exporters contrary to the large majority Ethiopians who are subsistence farmers and food insecure. This is not God’s curse against the Ethiopians; rather it is the huge difference in their level of development and production systems.
As in their food production, there is also marked difference between America and Ethiopia in the amount of their food losses. The amount of food losses in America is so large that it is incomparable with the food Ethiopia loses which is very minimal. The same is true with America and other developing countries. The same reality is also manifested in Europe in which the great majority of European countries are among those with the highest rate of food losses.
Green Oak Solutions, a UK business firm early in February this year revealed eye popping facts and figures on food waste in the UK. The firm’s data indicated that an estimated 15 million tons of food waste is generated in the UK every year including 7.2 million tons from households. This food waste costs the average UK family around £680 a year.
According to the green Oak Solutions, the total food waste the UK generates in a year an estimated £7.38 billion. It is really quite a figure when compared with the total £6 billion government budget allocated for transportation for the year 2012.
Last June 2012, the Brussels Development Briefing on “Food Losses and Food Waste” was held in Belgium. The Briefing was organized by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU, in partnership with the African Union Commission, the European Commission, the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Secretariat and Concord.
At this Briefing, Michael Hailu, an Ethiopian Director of the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development ACP-EU said that, more than a third of global food production, the equivalent of 1.3 billion tons, was partly burnt out. He stressed that reducing this waste is a challenge that all countries must seize. 
Michael Hailu while congratulating the Mexican presidency of the G20 for recognizing the need to listen to farmers and agricultural groups to solve the global problem of food security; insisted that fighting losses means that food security cannot be reduced to a problem of availability, but access must also be considered.
Despite commendable economic development achieved by the South in recent years, a huge imbalance is still evidenced between the North and South. Over one billion people which are less than a sixth of the world’s population are chronically hungry. Agricultural researchers time and again argued that the real issue is not the issue of availability. The volume of food produced worldwide is more than enough to feed the population, they emphasized. According to FAO, global agricultural production could feed 12 billion human beings, double the current population, and the exceeding food could satisfy the needs of 3 billion people.
In addition, approximately 300 million human beings suffer from obesity, and over one billion are overweight. These numbers put in parallel with the 1.3 billion tons of waste and losses recorded in the world. According to the United Nations, reducing the volume of debris by 50 per cent by 2050 would decrease the amount of food needed to feed the nine billion people by 25 per cent.
But where are the agricultural debris? As per the study paper presented in the Briefing, the first observation is that the industrialized countries are wasting more food. It speaks of 110 pounds per person per year. In the European Union, the waste is around 89 million tons annually. The first responsibility has to be found in the families (43 per cent), followed by the food industry (39 per cent). In other words, about one third of food purchased in these countries is not consumed.
Tristram Stuart, a British researcher and activist on food waste said that, rich countries are facing an unprecedented food surplus, creating an ever greater gap with developing countries. According to the book entitled “Uncovering the Global Food Scandal” (2009), over 60 per cent of waste could be avoided and the food that is now lost, could be consumed if it was managed more efficiently.
Among the virtuous models to follow, Tristram Stuart mentions the initiatives launched by supermarkets in Europe, where food that is unsold and about to expire is donated  to the voluntary sector, or the awareness campaign “Last Minute Market” presented by the University of  Bologna to the European Parliament in October 2010. Tristram Stuart also supports the full utilization of animal resources. The consumption of offal in Europe has fallen by 50 per cent over the past 30 years. He also mentions best practices such as recycling surplus animal food.
Developing countries are also not immune of the problems of food wastage. Lack of proper infrastructure and storage units for goods are the primary causes of major loss of food. In Chad for example, the biggest problem is at the beginning of the food chain, where environmental crisis or climate disasters lead to the total loss of the grain harvest. However, in contrast to industrialized countries, in sub-Saharan Africa food wastage is very minimal.
John Orchard, a researcher at the University of Greenwich (UK) tried to explain the situation in Africa by saying, “for years we have been interested in food waste and losses in post-harvest activities. Among the priorities to be addressed there is the need to improve the quality of food and not to focus on increasing food production. In many African countries, consumers do not throw anything away, not even the rotten food.”
In Africa, post-harvest losses represent 25 per cent of cereal production and up to 50 per cent when there are vulnerable crops such as fruits, vegetables and tubers. To address the problem, John Orchard insists on a more intense and fruitful collaboration between the institutions, cooperatives, grain markets, but also on the access to advanced technologies, especially for storage.