In the words of the United Nations (U.N.) under the Secretary General and U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner, “In the world of 7 billion people set to grow to 9 billion by 2050, wasting food makes no sense economically, environmentally and ethically.” As “turn off the lights” was an electricity saving campaign, “Think.Eat.Save” is a campaign set to reduce food waste through the collective actions at different levels of producers, retailers, and consumers.
I was shattered to learn that the food waste produced annually around the globe is more than enough to feed 900 million hungry people in the world. Also, every year one third of all food products gets lost or wasted equivalent to 1.3 billion tons [Jose Graziano Da Silva, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in the article “Food Loss Mean Hunger” in Our planet; the magazine of the UNEP-May 2013] – quite another traumatizing fact!
Most of us are unknown to the facts that, after every meal there would be a pile of food left at the side of our plate, a lot of food thrown away from the fridge everyday and many more irresponsible activities contributing to increase the cost of food waste and the problems of food and nutrition insecurity. Indeed, at least one third of everything we grow on this planet is lost between the field and the consumer. It is an ethical, economic and environmental issue given the enormous waste of energy, water, fertilizers, and other inputs as a result of food being produced but never eaten.
Each one of us can do something about this and that’s why, through the Think.Eat.Save Reduce Your Foodprint campaign, all the people across the world should join hands in an effort to both raise awareness and to take practical actions whether in our home, whether on our farm, whether in the supermarket, in a canteen, in a hotel, or anywhere else where food is prepared and consumed.
The consumer level of food waste is not a severe problem in the developing country like Nepal; here the main problem is caused by logistic, managerial, and infrastructural challenges in the early stages of food chain from production to market. This is the story of every rural household of our country where we rest upon manual measures to carry out these activities and we do not even have food safety friendly practices of post harvest operations like harvesting, threshing, transportation and effective measures to store the products. My mother explained to me that due to the lack of effective production and harvesting measures, she gains half of what she has actually worked for. I feel pity to see the small storekeepers throwing out kilos of rotten onions and potatoes each day, which causes economical and environmental challenges and also the decreasing food security globally.
Tackling post-harvest loss is not rocket science. It does not require technological breakthroughs or years of high level scientific research. But preventing food that could nourish the hungry from being lost early in the food chain requires the coordinated efforts of many actors. National governments should take the lead in their own countries and embrace solutions at a policy framework level. Addressing waste across the food chain must be a critical pillar of future national food strategies. International agencies and NGOs also need to coordinate their efforts fully to support farmers in growing more, growing better and accessing markets. And community leaders must help their people understand and work together to prevent their maize, rice, beans or other staple crops from being damaged or destroyed.
But, in industrialized nations the people have a different story plot. The infrastructural, logistic and managerial challenges are aptly tackled so that the problems of production, harvesting and storage are of less significant. In developed industrial countries especially, food waste is at a consumption issue. Many consumers dispose of food that could still be eaten because they misunderstand the expiry date or because they bought too much and stored it inappropriately. But due to advancement and development, producers, retailers and consumers discard the food that is still fit for consumption.
Professional storage, processing and packaging technologies, custom-designed for specific purposes, are exceedingly useful in avoiding food waste along the entire production and supply chain. After harvest, industrial and bulk packaging protects against pest infestations. During transport, packaging protects sensitive foods against weather and transport-related damage. At retail, it helps food stay fresh longer, regardless of climatic conditions. And in households, the trustworthiness, safety, usability, and size of a package determines how much it is consumed rather than tossed in the rubbish.
Driving down food waste in the value chain won’t be easy and it will take long-term sustained programs to make progress. But through such measures, by and working effectively with other leading authorities in this field, we think we can start making a difference right away. Reducing food waste to help ensure adequate food supplies over time is one of the biggest challenges our planet is facing. Only increased public awareness and a better understanding of the problem can lead to political and economic actors working towards possible solutions, and to producers and consumers changing and optimizing their every-day behavior and the way they handle food. But by using our scale for good, we believe we can play our part in shaping the solution.
Sustainable food security is only possible if production is intensified in a sustainable way, while fostering sustainable consumption. Searching for ways to reduce food waste, together with all the stakeholders involved is to be made another priority. In addition improved production systems and developing a sound scientific basis for resource-saving consumption patterns and diets will bring our agriculture and food economy onto a more sustainable path and create positive spill-over effects for the whole world.
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