Article written

  • on 11.07.2012
  • at 01:14 PM
  • by Randa Ghazy

Food: Fighting against losses in developing countries and waste in rich countries 0

More than a third of global food production, the equivalent of 1.3 billion tons, was partly burnt out. Reducing this waste is a challenge that all countries must seize said Michael Hailu, Director of the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development (CTA) ACP-EU during the last Brussels Development Briefing* which was held in Brussels in late June on wastage in the food chain.

“Fighting losses means that food security cannot be reduced to a problem of availability, but access must also be considered” insisted Hailu, who congratulated the Mexican presidency of the G20 for recognizing the need, together the need to listen to farmers and agricultural groups to solve the global problem of food security.

Imbalance North / South

Over one billion people – less than a sixth of the world’s population – are chronically hungry. “It is not a matter of availability” said Silvia Gaiani, a researcher at the University of Bologna (Italy), “the volume of food produced worldwide is more than enough to feed the population”, she added. “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 agricultural debris? First observation: 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.

“Rich countries are facing an unprecedented food surplus, creating an ever greater gap with developing countries,” says Tristram Stuart, a British researcher and activist on food waste. According to the author of ‘Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’ (published in 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, 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 that, such as recycling surplus animal food.

Losses after the harvest

In contrast to industrialized countries, in sub-Saharan Africa food wastage is extremely rare. In Chad 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. The lack of proper infrastructure and storage units for goods cause a major loss of food stressed Akonopeesa Onya, Board Member of Uganda National Farmers Federation.

“For years we have been interested in food waste and losses in post-harvest,” said John Orchard, a researcher at the University of Greenwich (UK). 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.”

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. 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. “FAO has set up a working group to address all these problems” said Robert van Otterdijk. According to the agro-industrial expert, the market is so complex that it needs to coordinated activities between all parties involved.”

By Marie-Martine Buckens –
Former Deputy Editor-in-chief at The Courrier ACP-EU

* The Brussels Development Briefing on “Food Losses and Food Waste” was organised by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA), in partnership with the African Union Commission, the European Commission (DG DEVCO), the ACP Secretariat and Concord.

© Le Confident (RCA), (Italy) and Les Echos (Mali)

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