Waste Not, Want Not


Following last week’s “Think Green Go Green Africa” conference, organised by the Pan African Chambers of Commerce & Industry (PACCI), I was reminded about the way food is produced globally and more importantly, how much is actually wasted. The report “Global Food – waste not, want not” by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers provides us a good insight in the matter and below follows an excellent reference of this report. I especially draw attention to the recommendations at the end as we indeed need to take the issues raised very seriously and we need to consider what we can do to minimise wastage of food in our own context. I suggest that all authorities, agencies, organizations and producers, involved in one way or another in the production, processing and marketing of food in this country, seriously look into this report and agree on a way to identify problems that lead to food waste in Ethiopia and design and implement measures for improvement. 
“Today, we produce about four billion metric tonnes of food per annum. Yet due to poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation, as well as market and consumer wastage, it is estimated that 30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach. Furthermore, this figure does not reflect the fact that large amounts of land, energy, fertilisers and water have also been lost in the production of foodstuffs which simply end up as waste. This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands.
In 2010, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers identified three principal emerging population groups across the world, based on characteristics associated with their current and projected stage of economic development.
Fully developed, mature, post-industrial societies, such as those in Europe, characterised by stable or declining populations which are increasing in age.
Late-stage developing nations that are currently industrialising rapidly, for example China, which will experience decelerating rates of population growth, coupled with increasing affluence and age profile.
Newly developing countries that are beginning to industrialise, primarily in Africa, with high to very high population growth rates (typically doubling or tripling their populations by 2050), and characterised by a predominantly young age profile.
Each group over the coming decades will need to address different issues surrounding food production, storage and transportation, as well as consumer expectations, if we are to continue to feed all our people.
In less-developed countries, such as those of sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia, wastage tends to occur primarily at the farmer-producer end of the supply chain. Inefficient harvesting, inadequate local transportation and poor infrastructure mean that produce is frequently handled inappropriately and stored under unsuitable farm site conditions.
In mature, fully developed countries such as the UK, more-efficient farming practices and better transport, storage and processing facilities ensure that a larger proportion of the food produced reaches markets and consumers. However, characteristics associated with modern consumer culture mean produce is often wasted through retail and customer behaviour.
Major supermarkets, in meeting consumer expectations, will often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables at the farm because they do not meet exacting marketing standards for their physical characteristics, such as size and appearance. For example, up to 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is never harvested as a result of such practices. Globally, retailers generate 1.6 million tonnes of food waste annually in this way.
Of the produce that does appear in the supermarket, commonly used sales promotions frequently encourage customers to purchase excessive quantities which, in the case of perishable foodstuffs, inevitably generate wastage in the home. Overall between 30% and 50% of what has been bought in developed countries is thrown away by the purchaser.
Wasting food means losing not only life-supporting nutrition but also precious resources, including land, water and energy. As a global society therefore, tackling food waste will help contribute towards addressing a number of key resource issues:
Over the last five decades, improved farming techniques and technologies have helped to significantly increase crop yields along with a 12% expansion of farmed land use. However, with global food production already utilising about 4.9Gha of the 10Gha usable land surface available, a further increase in farming area without impacting unfavourably on what remains of the world’s natural ecosystems appears unlikely. The challenge is that an increase in animal-based production will require greater land and resource requirement, as livestock farming demands extensive land use. One hectare of land can, for example, produce rice or potatoes for 19–22 people per annum. The same area will produce enough lamb or beef for only one or two people. Considerable tensions are likely to emerge, as the need for food competes with demands for ecosystem preservation and biomass production as a renewable energy source.”
To be continued next week

Reference: “Global Food – Waste Not, Want Not” by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers