Food security: the staggering statistics

Online since 5.09.2017 • Filed under Environment • From Issue 6 - September 2017 - February 2018 page(s) 34-35
Food security: the staggering statistics

The statistics are staggering. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year – approximately 1.3 billion tonnes – gets lost or wasted. Emma Dawson considers the facts and figures published by the FAO.

Food losses refer to the decrease in edible food mass throughout the part of the supply chain that specifically leads to edible food for human consumption. Food losses take place at production, postharvest and processing stages in the food supply chain. Food losses occurring at the end of the food chain (retail and final consumption) are referred to as food waste, which relates to retailers’ and consumers’ behaviour.

With 50% of South African households experiencing hunger or food insecurity, we need to take food security very seriously for many reasons. The FAO’s statics reveal that in developing countries, 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels, while in industrialised countries more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels. For example, large quantities of foods are wasted at retail because of high quality standards and over- emphasis on product appearance.

Worldwide enough food is produced to feed everyone, yet this food and the technology to produce it do not always reach those in need. Between 2014 and 2016, the FAO estimated that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment. 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.

The impact on food security

The issue of food losses is of high importance in the efforts to combat hunger, raise income and improve food security in the world’s poorest countries. According to a paper published by the FAO, food losses have an impact on food security for poor people, on food quality and safety, on economic development and on the environment. The exact causes of food losses vary throughout the world and are very much dependent

on the specific conditions and local situation in each country. In broad terms, food losses are influenced by crop production choices and patterns, internal infrastructure and capacity, marketing chains and channels for distribution, and consumer purchasing and food use practices. Irrespective of the level of economic development and maturity of systems in a country, food losses should be kept to a minimum.

Improving the efficiency of the food supply chain

What’s more, food losses represent a waste of resources – land, water, energy and inputs – used in production. Producing food that will not be consumed leads to unnecessary CO2 emissions in addition to the loss of economic value of the food produced. Economically avoidable food losses have a direct and negative impact on the income of both farmers and consumers.

Given that many smallholders live on the margins of food insecurity, a reduction in food losses could have an immediate and significant impact on their livelihoods. For poor consumers (food insecure or at-risk households), the priority is clearly to have access to food products that are nutritious, safe and affordable. It is important to note that food insecurity is often more a question of access (purchasing power and prices of food) than a supply problem. Improving the efficiency of the food supply chain could help to bring down the cost of food to the consumer and thus increase access.

Given the magnitude of food losses, making profitable investments in reducing losses could be one way of reducing the cost of food. But that would, of course, require that financial gains from reduced losses are not outweighed by their costs.

Ongoing research and collaboration

How much food is lost and wasted in the world today and how can we prevent food losses? The FAO’s researchers maintain that these are questions impossible to give precise answers to, and there is not much ongoing research in the area. They add that this is quite surprising as forecasts suggest that food production must increase significantly to meet future global demand. Insufficient attention appears to be paid to current global food supply chain losses, which are probably substantial.

As with many issues that are exacerbated by extreme poverty, it’s often the youngest and most vulnerable who are hurt the most. The world’s children are disproportionately affected by food and nutrition shortages. In 2015, 90 million children under the age of five (one in seven) worldwide were underweight. Ninety percent of the world’s hungry children live in just two regions – southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. For more information, visit www.fao.org.

Facts about food loss and waste

One of the pillars of the global initiative for solutions for food loss and waste is awareness. According to the FAO, this will be achieved by, among other things, increasing knowledge and changing the behaviour of actors and consumers in the food chains.
The facts:
• Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year – approximately 1.3 billion tonnes – gets lost or wasted.
• Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US$680 billion in industrialised countries and US$310 billion in developing countries.
• Industrialised and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food – 670 and 630 million tonnes respectively.
• Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers, have the highest wastage rates of any food.
• 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).
• Per capita waste by consumers is between 95 to 115kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, and south and south-eastern Asia, each throw away only 6 to 11kg a year.
• Total per capita food production for human consumption is about 900kg a year in rich countries, almost twice the 460kg a year produced in the poorest regions.
• In developing countries, 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialised countries more than 40% of losses occur at retail and consumer levels.
• At retail, large quantities of food are wasted because of quality standards that over-emphasise appearance.
• Food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change.
• The food currently lost or wasted in Latin America could feed 300 million people, in Europe could feed 200 million people, and in Africa could feed 300 million people.
• 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.
For more information, visit www.fao.org/save-food/en/.

Issue 6 - September 2017 - February 2018

Issue 6 - September 2017 - February 2018

This article was featured on page 34-35 of SABI Magazine Issue 6 - September 2017 - February 2018 .

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