We need effective strategies against food waste

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020 00:00 |
Mrs. Carla Elisa Luis Mucavi, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has appointed.

Jacob Ochieng’

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimated that 14 per cent of food produced in 2019 went to waste using their pioneering Food Loss Index (FLI) tool.

For the first time, it attached economic value to food loss, moving away from traditional reporting solely based on physical volumes.

However, the estimates still did not cover waste beyond retail and consumer levels.

This is why the UN Environment has been looking at another complementary tool, Food Waste Index, to provide the bigger picture on how the global system wastes food. 

The government estimates that about 20 per cent of food produced is lost along the supply chain, but figures vary up to 50 per cent depending, on commodities studied and the supply chain component in focus.

No single study has tracked quantitative and qualitative food loss and waste for the entire commodity chain in the country.

Although the government has set to reduce this loss from 20 to 15 per cent by 2022 within its Big Four Agenda, lack of comprehensive supply-chain wide data may hinder this effort.

It is instructive to note that national efforts towards combating food loss and waste will ultimately contribute to target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals that aim to halve the current rate of global loss by 2030.

Immediate action should therefore be on strategies that will provide sufficient and accurate data that will inform our intervention strategies.

This should detail how much food deteriorates in quality or reduces quantitatively, its specific chain loci and exploratory causes. 

There is also  need to look into action strategies towards achieving both food security and environmental sustainability. 

In Kenya, 60 per cent of smallholder farmers still go hungry, but ironically lose 30 per cent  of their grains, closely followed by roots, tubers and fruits according to the Kenya Bureau of Statistics. Most of this is due to poor handling at production and improper storage.

While postharvest storage technologies such as hematic bags for grains are available, the costs still remain prohibitively exorbitant.

Second, low-cost agro ecological technologies for fresh produce storage such as zero-energy coolers and solar drying for processing could be adopted.

Third, producers will need to be supported to acquire appropriate skills for handling food at production, storage and during transportation.  

The 2019 State of Food and Agriculture report by FAO indicates the greatest loss in food has been reported within roots and tubers in Sub-Saharan Africa; yet they have  been touted to provide food security resilience, particularly in the face of changing climate.  

Perhaps a subtler but profound, aspect of food loss and waste is the environmental footprint (mainly carbon footprint, blue water footprint and land footprint) associated with it.

When food is lost, the accompanying nutrients in land is lost too and carbon emissions is incurred.

In Kenya, the continuous loss of cereals such as  maize to aflatoxin, pest infestation and lack of markets, significantly contributes to water loss.

  Worse still, irrigated fields in dry arid and semi-arid areas, therefore, register costlier water footprint when crops produced there  gets lost and wasted.

Targeting environmental outcomes will prioritise food loss prevention with this food group. 

Simultaneously, strategies are required towards preserving land, together with optimal and efficient water and nutrient application to produce per capita food requirements.

At Practical Action, we are reducing food loss and waste through regenerative agriculture; building capacity of farmers to produce safe food not contaminated with pesticides, agro-chemicals and crop pests.

Further along the value chain, we are discussing with stakeholders the concept of Smart Markets.

Practical Action’s work in circular economy supports mapping of waste streams, waste segregation and recycling, given huge tons of waste in open markets.

By employing a Solar-powered marketplace that supports processing and preservation (refrigeration) for value addition enterprises, food waste can be curbed. — The writer works at Practical Action

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