"Roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year... Food wasted by consumers in rich countries (222m tonnes) is roughly equal to the entire food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230m tonnes)."
The report makes the distinction between food loss - occurring at the production, harvest, post-harvest and processing phases - and wastage - retailers and consumers throwing perfectly edible foodstuffs into the trash. The study finds that though industrialised and developing countries waste or lose roughly the same amount of food each year – 670 m and 630 m tonnes respectively - there are important differences.
Rich countries waste food primarily at the level of the consumer and at the retailer level, especially for fruits and vegetables, by often unreasonable quality standards that over-emphasize appearance instead of safety and taste. For developing countries, the major concern is food loss due to weak infrastructure – including poor storage, processing and packaging facilities that lack the capacity to keep produce fresh. Further, on a per-capita basis, the per capita food waste by consumers in Europe and North-America is 95-115 kg/year, while this figure in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia is only 6-11 kg/year.
Apart from strengthening food supply chains (by investing in storage, processing, packaging, and transportation), the report also advocates reducing reliance on retailers like big supermarkets, promotion of direct sales of farm produce to consumers, encourages retailers and charities to work together to distribute unsold but perfectly edible food that would otherwise go to waste.
These findings come at a time when the food prices have been soaring (overall cost of food in April was 36% higher than in 2010). Last month, the World Bank said that rising food prices had pushed 44 million more people into extreme poverty, and an additional 10 million people live at the margins of falling into poverty. There are two observations in this context,
1. It is ironical that while public policy explicitly tries to lower electricity transmission and distribution losses, we are, at best, ambivalent about reducing food wastage. This is despite, food wastage being a much bigger problem than the former. More unfortunately, this issue gets even less attention than issues like energy and water conservation.
2. There is some food for thought for behavioural economists and psychologists here. Apart from the hard policy and investment-driven (more storage facilities etc) choices required for cutting down on food loss, can we also nudge people into reducing their food wastage? Such subtle nudges could be incorporated into the processes undertaken at every level in the production-marketing-consumption chain, so as to reduce the likelihood of food being wasted.
For example, one way to nudge people into lowering food consumption wastage is to encourage the purchases of smaller packets of food materials from stores. Another option is some form of restrictions on promotional offers that encourage people to buy more food than they need. Given the amounts of food wasted in hotels, are there some nudges or strategies that could enable hotels more effectively manage their cooking demand schedules? In particular, what are the strategies that enable hotels to minimize wastage from buffet spreads?
But this nudge (or shove) may be one step too far!