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Collaborative Efforts to Reduce Waste in the Food Value Chain

In a world where millions go to bed hungry every night, the staggering amount of food wasted is astounding.

According to FAO’s latest report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI), ‘the number of people affected by hunger rose to as much as 828 million in 2021’ (FAO and UNEP issue call for action, 2022). That means that 46 million more people starved than in 2020, and 150 million more since 2019.

According to UNEP’s Food Waste Index Report of 2021, 17 per cent of our food ends up being wasted in retail and by consumers. It is almost two times less than the amount stated by FAO in 2011, but still too much, if we consider the quantity of hungry people mentioned above.

In this article, we delve into the critical importance of working together in the food value chain to reduce waste and its environmental, economic, and social implications.

Food waste is not just about tossing out our half-eaten sandwich; it is a global issue that transcends our kitchen bins. All parts of the food value chain, from production and distribution to retail and consumer consumption, are interconnected. When waste occurs at any stage, it sends ripples throughout the entire chain, with consequences that impact us all.

Environmental Impact

Food waste contributes significantly to environmental degradation. As organic waste breaks down in landfills, it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Water, energy, and arable land resources are squandered producing food that goes uneaten. ‘The FAO estimates the environmental cost of food waste at $700 billion per year, which was calculated by quantifying carbon, land, and water costs and potential savings, along with the semi-quantifiable cost factor of biodiversity’ (The Economics Review, 2019). Reducing food waste is a crucial step towards mitigating climate change and conserving our precious natural resources.

Economic Consequences

The economic toll of food waste is immense. For businesses, it translates into lost profits. In agriculture, it means wasting inputs (seeds, labour, and water). For consumers, it results in higher grocery bills. Lower-income people are regularly impacted by higher prices, less or unhealthy food, and nutritional deficiencies. Poor diets can cause illnesses and productivity loss, which result in higher healthcare costs to individuals and society. By working together to reduce waste, we can alleviate this economic burden.

Social and Humanitarian Implications

Food waste has profound social consequences. Discarding perfectly edible food is a sign of a deeply unjust distribution of resources. By donating and organising collections, we can redirect surplus food to those in need, alleviating hunger and reducing food insecurity.

At a policy level, the fight again food waste has started in many countries in which tailored policies have been approved. In France, for instance, it is illegal that companies throw away edible food; in Italy, private food retail operators offering food surplus projects can be entitled to tax reductions. In the U.S., various cities and states created laws to curb food waste, for instance, limiting the amount of organic waste in landfills or composting and donating food (The Economics Review, 2019).

Collaboration is another fruitful strategy to reduce waste at each stage of the supply chain. Some examples are listed below.

  • Production. Farmers can optimise planting and harvesting schedules to match demand. Surplus produce can be donated, and less-than-perfect crops can be used in value-added products.

  • Distribution. Improved supply chain management can minimise spoilage and losses during transportation. Organisations like food banks can collaborate with distributors to rescue excess, edible food before it goes to waste.

  • Retail. Retailers can employ strategies like dynamic pricing, where food nearing its expiration date is discounted. That reduces waste and allows consumers to save money.

  • Consumer Education. Educating consumers about smart shopping, meal planning, and proper food storage can significantly reduce household food waste.

  • Technology and Innovation. Apps and digital platforms empower consumers and businesses to track and reduce waste, redirect surplus food, and connect food donors with recipients. You can learn more about the supply chain and the benefits of traceability technology in this post.

Across the globe, initiatives like the Zero Hunger Challenge, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and local food rescue programs are all addressing food waste. Organisations and businesses are joining forces to promote awareness and collaboration.

When we work together, we not only reduce the environmental impact and economic costs of waste, but also address social injustice and inequalities caused by hunger. A future with less food waste is a shared commitment to a healthier, more sustainable world for all. Let’s embrace this challenge and take action today, because reducing waste is a crucial step toward creating a sustainable future we can all benefit from.

-Marina Novokhatska

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