Food landfill pile up as the vulnerable go hungry

Tuesday, July 7th, 2020 00:00 |
Famine state.

There is need for alternative ways for communities to access edible and nutritious food, most of which end up wasted.

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

The impact of Covid-19 has undoubtedly unleashed a food security crisis felt by many across the nation.

People are displaced from their businesses, jobs and children are at home and the country is feeling the negative effect of this pandemic mainly on food systems.

The pandemic is also slowing efforts to deal with the desert locusts that have been ravaging the East and Horn of Africa, and floods have not made the food situation any better. 

Most-affected groups are vulnerable communities that were already experiencing hunger and other crises pre-Covid-19.

It is however, ironical to note that one third of all food produced in Kenya is dumped in landfills while more than 14 million go hungry every day.

United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has warned of a ‘looming food crisis’ caused by the pandemic, leading to significant increase in global hunger, if not adequately addressed.

John Gathungu, Chief Executive Officer Foodbanking Kenya, a non-profit organisation whose core objective is fighting hunger and helping attain food security in our societies, says Kenyans need to turn to food banks to ensure that no food is lost at all throughout the supply chain.

“Food banking is a proven solution for nourishing communities through dedicated and unified action in curbing food wastage at all levels, production, distribution and consumption,” he adds.

Food banks connect the world of  excess to a world of need, and have been instrumental in redistributing surplus and rejected but edible produce to vulnerable communities.

John Gathungu, CEO, Foodbanking Kenya. Photo/PD/Milliam Murigi

“Food banks typically work with all sectors of the supply chain — producers, manufacturers and retailers to rescue good quality surplus food that would eventually end up as waste,” he explains. 

Some reasons for wasted food include, over-production, retailers’ rejection, labelling errors, manufacturing mistakes, short date coding, incorrect forecasting, seasonal stocks, deleted lines, and damages.

Adverse impact

Apart from saving these edible foods from becoming waste, Gathungu insists that food banks further, engage in training activities to develop expertise and skill-set of farmers and other stakeholders in the supply chain with the ultimate aim of minimising food wastage.

“The value added by food banks in eradicating hunger cannot be understated and could provide cogent solutions to tackling food insecurity in Kenya,” he adds.

He reveals that food insecurity in Kenya is heightened by the exceptional nature of the agricultural sector, which merges traditional subsistence farming with the commercial sector; meaning that large-scale and small-scale holder production systems run concurrently.

However, high losses are often accountable to less-skilled chain actors, who operate inefficiently, as well as poorly established systems, especially in post-harvest handling and agro-processing.

“According to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics , food losses occur during production, post-harvest handling and distribution of the produce to the market,” he says. 

This, then has an adverse impact on food security, particularly for underprivileged and vulnerable communities and creates an illusion of food scarcity.

A report by Feedback Global shows systematic issues related to imbalances of power and unfair trading practices throughout the agricultural supply chain.

This results in significant impact on food waste levels, farmer livelihoods, and food security.

This issue leaves farmers with large amounts of unsellable produce with an average of 30 per cent of food rejected at the farm-level and 50 per cent rejected before being exported.

Effective systems

According to FAO, urban traders record low rates of losses due to better storage facilities and the use of preservatives.

They are better equipped to recover spillages, but their main losses are caused by storage pests like rats.

In totality, post-harvest losses have been estimated at 40–50 per cent; meaning approximately half of farm produce goes to waste.

Eighty per cent of these losses occur in the early and middle stages of the food supply chain. Food waste at consumer level occurs at a lower rate of up to 150kg per household annually.

“There is need for effective systems to reduce occurrence of losses. Food loss reduction strategies involve awareness-raising combined with the training and organisation of smallholders, value chain development and organisation; centralisation and contract services,” he concludes.

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