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Over a billion tonnes of food produced goes to waste every year—FAO

By Ronald Musoke

A new study released this month by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has noted that one third or over 30% of the food produced around the world for human consumption every year –approximately 1.3 billion tonnes—gets lost or wasted.

Interestingly, food wastage and loss is roughly the same for both the industrialized and developing countries— 670m and 630m tonnes respectively.

If these losses were to be monetized, they amount to roughly US$ 680 billion in industrialized countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries, the FAO study says.According to FAO, fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food. The agency adds that global quantitative food losses and waste per year are roughly 30 percent for cereals, 40-50 percent for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20 percent for oil seeds, meat and dairy and 30 percent for fish.

FAO further noted that every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).

“The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tonnes in 2009/2010),” the food agency adds.

However, although per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, South and South-eastern Asia, each throw away only 6-11 kg every year. In contrast, the total per capita food production for human consumption is about 900 kg a year in rich countries, almost twice the 460 kg a year produced in the poorest regions.

FAO says that in developing countries, 40 percent of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialized countries more than 40 percent of losses happen at retail and consumer levels. At retail level, large quantities of food are wasted due to quality standards that over-emphasize appearance.

Food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labour and capital and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change.

FAO says the food currently lost or wasted in Latin America could feed 300 million people while the total amount wasted in Europe could feed 200 million. The total amount lost in Africa could feed 300 million people.

FAO notes that even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world. Food losses during harvest and in storage translate into lost income for small farmers and into higher prices for poor consumers.

In developing countries, food waste and losses occur mainly at 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.

In medium- and high-income countries food is wasted and lost mainly at later stages in the supply chain. But the situation is different in industrialized nations and here the behaviour of consumers plays a big part.

FAO argues that strengthening the supply chain through the direct support of farmers and investments in infrastructure, transportation, as well as in an expansion of the food and packaging industry could help to reduce the amount of food loss and waste.

The study identified a lack of coordination between actors in the supply chain as a contributing factor.

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