Published 4 years ago.
About a 6 minute read.
The UN set a global goal to cut food loss and waste in half by 2030. Alarming figures show just how big of a challenge remains. The size of the prize is huge. So, too, must be the action to seize it.
Nearly a third of all food produced in the world goes uneaten each year — an
amount that costs the global economy $940 billion and emits 8 percent of
planet-warming greenhouse gases. At the same time, 1 in 9 people is
A massive challenge requires massive action. A new
WRI — and produced with support from The Rockefeller Foundation; and in
partnership with UN Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council,
Iowa State University, The University of Maryland's Ed Snider
Center, the Consortium for Innovation in Postharvest Loss and Food Waste
Reduction, Wageningen University and Research, and
WRAP — lays out a Global Action
Agenda to overcome the world's food loss and waste problem.
Simply put, this Global Action Agenda calls on governments, companies, farmers,
consumers and everyone in between to play their role in a three-pronged
Target-Measure-Act: Set food loss and waste reduction targets, measure
to identify hotspots of food loss and waste, and to monitor progress over
time; and take action on the hotspots.
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"To do" list: Pursue a short to-do list we've identified per player in
the food supply chain as "no regret" first steps toward taking action.
10 scaling interventions: Collaborate in 10 areas to ramp up deployment
of Target-Measure-Act and the "to do" list.
To accelerate momentum, here are 10 interventions that can rapidly spur
deployment of a Target-Measure-Act approach and actor-specific actions.
Only a handful of nations — including the UK, the Netherlands and
Ethiopia — have established strategies to reduce food loss and waste.
National strategies help align public policies, private sector actions, farmer
practices and consumer behavior toward a shared goal, so it's critical that more
nations create strategies to halve food loss and waste.
Reducing food loss and waste requires action across the entire food supply
chain, as well as supportive public policies. No single institution can drive a
50 percent economy-wide reduction on its own. Public-private partnerships have
an emerging track record, having launched in countries including the
Netherlands, UK and US. In the UK, the Courtauld
has been signed by 53 retailers that have committed to measure and reduce food
waste by 2025; and in the US, 15 food giants and retailers calling themselves
have pledged the same by 2030. If such partnerships emerged in the following
countries, then 20 of the world's largest agriculture exporters would be
covered, representing 45 percent of the world's population: Argentina,
China, France, India, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, New
Zealand, Poland, Thailand and Turkey.
Food losses often occur during production and, especially in low-income
countries, during handling and storage. Launching a private sector campaign
where at least 10 of the largest food and agriculture companies commit to act
and engage their 20 largest suppliers to do the same by 2030 (hence, 10x20x30)
could have a big impact. This approach leverages the relative market
concentration and power of a few companies to catalyze change across the supply
chain and geographies. This intervention follows a model set by retail giant
Tesco, which has secured the
commitment of 27 of its major suppliers to set targets, measure progress and
If we're to halve food losses, efforts to assist smallholders with productivity
need a big boost — especially in reaching smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa
and South Asia, regions that lose an estimated 26 percent of their food
during harvesting, handling and storage. Approaches include training farmers in
reducing losses, creating access to markets for smallholders, and improving
storage solutions. For example, as part of The Rockefeller Foundation's
farmers growing tomatoes in Nigeria were trained in improved agronomic
practices and access to aggregation centers, which reduced transport time to
market. Following these interventions, losses were reduced by 54 percent.
What if the 2020s became a decade of making food-storage technologies
ubiquitous, affordable and climate-friendly? Doing so would tackle a huge
hotspot of food loss and waste in low-income countries, helping ensure more food
makes it safely to market. Innovations in solar-powered coolers and
"lease-to-own" financing arrangements for villages can help.
Behavioral science tells us that increased knowledge of an issue alone does not
necessarily translate into changed behavior. What successful initiatives such as
the UK's 'Love Food, Hate
campaign have shown is that you must give people information and make it easy
for them to change their behavior. That's why 'Love Food, Hate Waste' ran
advertisements to raise awareness and worked with retailers to get rid of offers
such as 'buy one get one free' that encourage over-buying, as well as to print
food storage information on food packaging, making it easier for people to waste
less food. What's needed is for norms in high-income countries and cities
everywhere to shift, so that wasting food becomes unacceptable.
Reducing food loss and waste is an underappreciated greenhouse gas-mitigation
strategy. By tackling food loss and waste from emissions-intensive
and rice, these food sectors can reduce their impact on climate. Another
strategy is for countries to add food loss and waste reduction to their national
climate plans, known as Nationally Determined
(NDCs). To date, fewer than a dozen countries have included food loss and
waste reduction in their NDCs.
Many of the promising solutions to reduce food loss and waste need an influx in
financing to take off. In 2016, The Rockefeller Foundation launched the $130
million YieldWise initiative to tackle food losses in Kenya, Nigeria, and
Tanzania, and food waste in North America and Europe. In 2019, the
World Bank launched a $300 million Sustainable Development
focused on food loss and waste reduction. More of such investments are needed by
a wider suite of financiers, ranging from grants and blended finance to venture
capital and commercial investments.
Without more and better
to understand the scale and scope of the food loss and waste challenge, we risk
not being able to identify hotspots, hone reduction strategies and monitor
progress. Over the next five years, the world needs a concentrated push to
measure the quantity of food loss and waste in a more consistent way so that
data is comparable.
Public and private research institutions have an important role, helping answer
questions that will allow the world to refine strategies for reducing food loss
and waste, such as: Which solutions are showing the best return on
are most promising? What can behavioral science tell us about how to shift
social norms when it comes to food waste? And what types of infrastructure do
farmers in low-income countries need to reduce on-farm and near-farm losses?
Successfully halving food loss and waste would bring enormous benefits: It would
close the gap between food needed in 2050 and food available in 2010 by more
than 20 percent. It would avoid the need to convert an area the size of
Argentina into agricultural land. And it would lower GHG emissions by 1.5
gigatons per year by 2050, an amount more than the current energy- and industry-
related emissions of Japan.
The size of the prize is huge. So, too, must be the action to seize it.
Published Aug 30, 2019 1pm EDT / 10am PDT / 6pm BST / 7pm CEST
Katie Flanagan is an Associate with the Food Program, where she works on food loss and waste.