On last November 21th, I was invited to assist an interesting symposium, organized by Bayer CropScience (the agricultural division of Bayer), in Bonn, in Germany, about problems of food conservation.
Among the conferences, I chose to comment, to be the first post of my blog, the one presented by Jorge M. Fonseca, from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
This organization published, in 2011, “Global food losses and food waste. Extent, causes and prevention”. It’s the result of a study of the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, about food losses and food waste, along the whole process from farm to consumer’s home.
This report is available on the FAO’s web :
The results are quite astonishing, and they mainly give an idea of possible progress to improve the availability of food for people who need it.
The report shows global annual losses of 1/3 (33%) of the totality of produced food on the whole planet, that to say a total of 1.3 billion tons of lost or wasted food.
Each year, in October, the FAO also publish the actualized data of the hunger in the world, in a report called “The state of food insecurity in the world” http://www.fao.org/publications/SOFI/en/ In the edition of 2012, the FAO speaks of 870 millions people suffering hunger.
If we relate this value with the number of food losses, we get the following result: there is an annual loss of 1500 kg of food for each person suffering hunger. In other words, if we could avoid food losses and waste, we could daily distribute more than 4 kg of food to each person suffering hunger, all the year long!
Coming back to the report, the proportion of waste jumps from 33% to 45% if we only limit the study to fruits and vegetables, that is to say if we don’t consider meat, fish, cereals, tubers, milk and so on.
Several phases are distinguished in the report, from the farm to the domestic refrigerator (if it exists).
These annual losses can be valued between 120 and 170 kg per capita in the south and south-east of Asia, and in Sub Saharan Africa, and 300 kg per capita in Europe, North America and Oceania.
Then, the report studies the stages of more waste production.
Losses in the farm are mainly due to phytosanitary problems (pests and diseases), to climatic problems (hale, frost, floods, droughts, and so on), and to problems of crops and farm management.
Industrialized countries have more waste at this stage because a quite strict first selection is generally done on the farm and normalization rules are quite strictly respected.
After harvest (conservation, conditioning and transport), industrialized countries take the advantage, thanks to the numerous conservation structures (cool storage) they have, although their higher requirements for standardization, cause many losses for blemishes. Other hand, in developing countries, the low selection done on farms results in a high waste in the following stages.
But highest differences are produced at the consumer stage. The percentage of losses is less than 10% in Sub Saharan Africa (around 10 kg per capita), and near 40% in North America (near 120 kg per capita). This waste is especially due to a bad management of domestic purchases, and to the relative value of food in the global family budget. It’s obvious that in poor areas, food is a first need product, and each food purchase is exactly adjusted. Waste food is not possible. In rich areas, purchases are often done in a compulsive way, without precise prevision, or in prepackaged formats that does not allow adjust the bought quantity to the exact necessity, and often for a quite long period of 1 to 2 weeks, that makes losses by decay.
We can take the astounding finding, that today, there is much more food waste in the production and retailing chains, than the food volumes we need to resolve the hunger problem in the world. Today, the planet is theoretically facing food overproduction.
Without hoping to consume 100% of what is produced (the causes of loss are numerous and not always controllable), we can reasonably think that food waste should be reduced between 25 and 50%.
But it will be necessary, in the future, to learn to resolve several problems:
- Improve the training of different actors involved in the whole food chain.
- Keep food products with suitable conservation methods from the production to the consumption place. This point means there are important investments to do in storage facilities and cool stores, as well as adapted transport means (cool trucks for example). It also requires implementing processes to avoid cool chain breaks for fresh food.
- Change some commercialization criteria, particularly standardization systems, because they are causing a lot of waste.
- Train or inform consumers, in developed countries, to learn to reduce the importance of aesthetics of fresh produce in the act of buying.
- Create political, economic and logistical means to deliver these foods and make them available to those who need it, when they are outside the usual and economically profitable commercial channels.
- Take probably politic decisions, to reduce the mercantilism which completely governs food marketing channels.
I leave you with these thoughts. I will speak about them later, other ways.
Meanwhile, I encourage you to take a look to this interesting report.