Food waste is one of the worst aspects of the consumerist society we live in and a crucial issue we have yet to solve. The numbers are frightening: on a global scale, we waste approximately one-third of everything we produce. That means that we throw away about 1.3 billion tons of food every year.
It’s hard to understand the size of the problem when all you’re given is cold facts. So, try to imagine a 8000-feet high mountain, spread across two miles. Can you picture it? That’s how much food we’re wasting every year.
This situation doesn’t read well, especially for the state of agriculture. Reports show that food production will need to increase by 60% by 2050 if we intend on feeding the entire global population, which is growing at an alarming speed. And given the fact that about 30% of the available agricultural land grows food that we waste, companies are beginning to realize that we need a clear strategy to solve this stringent issue.
Food Loss vs. Food Waste
It’s important to mention the differences between “food loss” and “food waste” and the impact these two concepts have. For example, in countries that are still developing, there usually are high levels of “food loss,” or food that is unintentionally wasted due to poor transportation or equipment. However, they have low levels of “food waste,” which is food that ends up in the trash bin because of aesthetic reasons or simply because buyers have purchased more than they needed.
On the other hand, the situation is completely different in wealthier countries, where the “food loss” levels are rather low, but the “food waste” levels are extremely high.
Better Infrastructures, a Possible Solution for Food Loss
The main causes of food loss in low-income countries have many ramifications. Harvesting techniques usually have many financial, technical, as well as managerial limitations. These countries often have severe climatic conditions that are challenging for storage and cooling facilities. Not to mention, they also have infrastructure issues, as well as weak packaging and marketing systems.
By strengthening the food supply chain and encouraging small farmers to grow their production, these countries can avoid food loss. However, none of these can be possible without serious investments in the food industry, the transportation, and the infrastructure of these countries, investments that should come from both the private and the public sector.
Communication Between Farmers Is Key
Food can be wasted throughout the entire food supply chain, starting from the agricultural production and all the way down to consumption.
In countries with booming economies, food is, as previously mentioned, thrown away, despite the fact that it could still be consumed. That usually happens when food production exceeds food demand. Farmers produce more than the market demands just to make sure they can honor their commitments and deliver the quantities they agreed on, should unplanned situations, such as pest infestation or bad weather occur.
What can be done?
The key here is the communication between farmers. If there was better communication, as well as cooperation between farmers, that could be a possible solution to the overproduction we’re witnessing. One farm could be having surplus production and could compensate the shortages of other farms.
In developing countries, food loss and food waste mostly occur in the earlier stages of the food supplier chain. However, food can also be lost because of premature harvesting from farmers that desperately need the money or need to take care of food deficiency in their regions. Thus, many times, food is not suitable for consumption, which means, even more loss, both from a nutritional and a financial point of view.
Farmers should work on diversifying their production and their marketing. Those with low resources should organize themselves in groups and try to obtain funding from the agricultural financial institutions in their country.
Waste levels are continuously on the rise at each stage of the food supply chain. And, despite the fact that increasing food production will be necessary to meet future global demands, we can close the gap between food production and food access by reducing food loss and food waste through smart, efficient solutions. The key here, however, will be correlating the actions taken at each stage of the food supply chain to make sure they all work together as a whole, rather than as individual actions that would only end up affecting each other.