We need action against food loss, waste

A man works in a marble quarry in Rupa, Karamoja region, Uganda, on May 23, 2022. PHOTO | AFP

In a situation where current agriculture practices have contributed to soil degradation, biodiversity loss, and impacted by climate change, we have realised below-average domestic food supplies, water crises for crops, livestock, human, and industrial use.

With rain-fed agriculture as the dominant source of staple food production and the livelihood foundation of rural poor in Uganda, food loss and waste exacerbate challenges and human suffering. 

The idea of food being lost or wasted  determines the level of food insecurity a country faces and can be relevant for reduction strategies. Essentially, food loss and waste can be defined as the  decrease in quantity or quality of food along the supply chain;  harvest to consumption.

 The broad estimate by the Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2011 suggests  that around 30 percent of the world’s food was lost or  wasted every year. If we consider this, it would raise awareness and allow us to better measure our progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 12; halving per capita global food waste at retail and consumer levels by 2030, as well as reducing food losses along production and supply chains.

Percentage of food loss refers to the physical quantity lost for different commodities divided by the amount produced (FAO 2019). The foods being lost include cereals, fruits and vegetables, meat and animal products, roots, tubers and oil-bearing crops among others. We need to be aware of where and why food loss and waste occurs.  Food loss occurs at the farm due to inadequate harvesting time, climatic conditions, practices applied at harvest and handling, and challenges in marketing produce.

Food loss is also occasioned by inadequate storage, as well as decisions made at earlier stages of the supply chain that cause products to have a shorter shelf life. We also lose food during transit  thus good infrastructure and efficient trade logistics are key to preventing food loss.  Processing and packaging play a role in preserving foods, and losses are often caused by inadequate facilities, technical malfunction, or human error.

Food waste at the retail level is linked to limited shelf life, the need for food products to meet aesthetic standards in terms of colour, shape and size, and variability in demand. At home, consumer waste is often caused by poor purchase and meal planning, excess buying, confusion over labels and poor in-home storing.

To reduce food loss and waste, we need to know where it occurs and interventions that will be most impactful. Potential effects of reduction initiatives include changes in food availability, access, utilisation and stability.

Reducing farm losses, farmers can improve their diet by consuming the food available and gain higher income if selling part of their produce.

Reducing consumers’ food waste can improve  food availability and access. However, farmers and other supply chain actors may be worse off as they are selling less and/or at lower prices. It’s therefore important to understand that when designing measures to combat the problem of food loss and waste, varying effects on food security and nutrition can occur. What the impacts are, and who is affected, depends on where in the food supply chain the reduction in losses or waste takes place and where nutritionally vulnerable and food-insecure people are located.  

To gain further insight into the extent of food loss and waste across stages in the supply chain, we need to conduct a comprehensive analysis of existing studies.

Dr David Ogwang, MSc. Agro Ecology.

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