Food loss is one of our biggest concerns at SheFarms. We are working towards reducing and, ultimately, preventing the large amount of food that ends up as waste in parts of Africa.
Every year, consumers in well off countries waste 222 million tonnes of food, which is almost the entire net of food production in sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) also released the following facts to really showcase the extent of the problem:
- The food currently lost or wasted in Latin America could feed 300 million people.
- The food currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people.
- The food currently lost in Africa could feed 300 million people.
In a world full of hunger, ridiculous food prices, and lack of equality when it comes to resources, these statistics are not only shocking, but detrimental to our planet.
So why, and most importantly how does this avoidable issue continue to happen?
What is Food Waste?
Food waste is the more common problem that we hear about day to day. This issue applies directly to us as buyers, and consumers because we are the ones creating it.
FAO research states that 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”.
This means that to help reduce the amount of food losses and waste we need to invest our time and efforts into strengthening the “supply chain through the direct support of farmers,” along with further “investments in infrastructure, transportation, as well as in an expansion of the food and packaging industry”.
In the Netherlands alone, we “throw away an average of 135 kilograms of food per person a year”, which equates to a total of about 2 billion kilograms of food waste a year.
Consumers throw away their food usually because it has reached its expiration date, they’ve bought too much of something, or have let it spoil.
But according to Wageningen University researcher Toine Timmermans, “in order to reduce food waste, it is absolutely necessary that Dutch people realise that throwing food away is a problem”.
What is Food Loss?
To combat issues of hunger, income, and food security, we need to first understand why and how food loss happens in the world’s poorest countries.
Evidently, food loss has an impact on food security for poor people. It also effects food quality and safety, economic development and the environment.
Not only does food loss result in a loss of nutritional and economic value, but also wasted resources used in production such as land, water, energy and inputs.
These losses are mainly caused by inefficiencies in the food supply chains such as poor infrastructure and logistics; lack of technology; insufficient skills, knowledge and management capacity of supply chain actors; along with lack of access to market and natural disasters.
FAO established five issues in the food supply chains of vegetable and animal commodities:
- Agricultural production: losses due to mechanical damage and/or spillage during harvest operation, crops sorted out after harvest.
- Postharvest handling and storage: including losses due to spillage and degradation during handling, storage and transportation between farm and distribution.
- Processing: including losses due to spillage and degradation during industrial or domestic processing, e.g. juice production, canning and bread baking.
- Losses may occur when crops are sorted out if not suitable to process or during washing, peeling, slicing and boiling or during process interruptions and accidental spillage.
- Distribution: including losses and waste in the market system, at wholesale markets, supermarkets, retailers and wet markets.
- Consumption: including losses and waste during consumption at the household level.
Apart from creating even more rubbish, food loss and waste are producing greenhouse gas emissions, and ultimately, contributing to global warming and climate change.
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.
With more than 40 percent of food losses and waste occurring at retail and consumer levels, we as the buyers need to alter our habits towards food.
There is no quick way to solve the issue of food waste and food loss. But, as consumers we first need to realise who is growing our food, where it is coming from, and how it gets to our stores.
Reducing food waste starts with the consumer, and reducing food loss starts with ensuring the relationship between farmer and buyer is coherent and well functioning.
FAO suggests that raising awareness among industries, retailers and consumers as well as finding beneficial use for food that is presently thrown away are useful measures to decrease the amount of losses and waste.
Instock is an independent foundation that works together with Albert Heijn, a supermarket chain in the Netherlands. Instock collects leftover produce each day and uses it at its own permanent restaurants in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht.
In addition, Bread Cycles is another organisation that’s playing its part in raising awareness about food waste. The non for profit enterprise is based in Amsterdam, and with the help of community workers collects leftover food from local bakeries and distributes it to organisations serving the homeless and refugees.
Now, what can you do?
Unfortunately, the reality is that majority of people don’t yet see food loss and food waste as a problem, therefore, changing people’s behaviour is a great challenge.
But here are some tips from FAO on what you can do to reduce the amount of food that’s wasted in your household:
- Shopping lists really do help, along with planning your meals and avoiding impulse buys. Also before going to the supermarket, why not check what food you already have in your cupboards and fridge, so you don’t end up doubling up and buying what you don’t need.
- Don’t leave the poor guys behind. The ugly looking fruits and vegetables usually get thrown out because of their size, shape or colour. Just remember that they may look that way because they’ve travelled a long way to get to your supermarket.
- Practise FIFO – meaning First In, First Out. Try using produce that you’ve already bought previously when cooking your meals. When unloading the groceries, try moving older products to the front and place the recently bought ones to the back.
- The most important thing is to understand the difference between “use by” and “best before” dates. “Use by” indicates a date, by which the food is safe to be eaten, however, “best before” means the food is at its best prior to the date, but it is still safe for consumption after the stated date.
- Leftovers!! – Try not to throw away food because you cooked too much. Simply, use your leftovers to make other meals, as this ensures you eat everything you buy. Leftovers can also be used as ingredients the next day. Otherwise, you can also freeze and save your leftovers for later.
- Why not use it as garden food? Evidently, some food waste is unavoidable, so a good tip is to set up a compost bin for fruit and vegetable peelings. In a few months you will end up with rich, valuable compost for your plants.
If you come up with your own tips then please share them with SheFarms! Goodluck!