Food loss and waste has consequences from farm to fork

This article was originally published in New Food Magazine by Lisa Moon, President and CEO of The Global FoodBanking Network. Moon discusses the importance of saving ‘imperfect’ produce from farms before it hits landfills and redirecting it to where it’s needed most. Across the globe, we produce enough to feed the entire world’s population; still, 821 million people are undernourished, or chronically hungry. A 2018 report suggests that 1.6 billion tonnes of food, approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption, is lost or wasted along the supply chain. Food loss and waste has become such a problem that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals saw fit to create target 12.3, dedicated to halving food loss and waste by 2030. There is a global grassroots movement aiming to eliminate food waste at the consumer and retail level, but what about prior to this? On-farm and post-harvest activities along the supply chain include everything from harvest to product landing in the hands of the consumer. And while waste happens at every stage of the supply chain, more than 30 percent occurs at production level. Post-harvest food loss is a leading cause of food insecurity for millions across the globe, so minimizing it helps provide nutritious food to hungry families and prevents adverse environmental effects. Wasted food also means wasted resources from the growing process, contributing to nearly eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. While enhanced safety measures and proper handling of products could decrease the amount of post-harvest loss, significant loss occurs due to the ‘physical condition’ or perceived food ‘quality’ – popularly termed ‘imperfect’, where a perfectly edible crop of ‘misshapen’ apples is sent to landfill for failing to meet aesthetic standards.How can we save this product, otherwise destined for landfill? Food banking organisations connected with The Global FoodBanking Network are recovering ‘imperfect’ produce from farms and directing it to those most in need. If just a quarter of lost or wasted food could be diverted to food banks, it could feed 870 million hungry people. Current efforts by food banks operating in nearly 60 countries mitigate an estimated 10.54 billion kg of CO2-eq annually, equivalent to nearly 2.2 million passenger vehicles. In Colombia, the Asociación de Bancos de Alimentos de Colombia (ABACO) has developed Escuela Reagro to enhance the agriculture food recovery programme across the country. Since 2018, Reagro has served as a training programme for food banks to increase fruit and vegetable recovery and improve the nutrition of the most vulnerable in Colombia. Today, 17 ABACO food banks participate in the programme and have rescued more than 24,000 tonnes of produce, benefiting more than 30,000 individuals facing hunger every month. In South Africa, 50 percent of food is lost at the agricultural level. To combat this problem, FoodForward SA (FFSA) is encouraging farmers, growers and food processors to join the food recovery revolution through the launch of its Second Harvest programme, aimed at sourcing and collecting surplus fruit and vegetables directly from commercial farmers. While most of the produce is distributed fresh to the beneficiary organizations, FFSA also processes fruits and vegetables to extend their shelf life. The kiwi and tomato jams have been a huge hit with beneficiaries! Achieving zero hunger by 2030 will require no food to be lost or wasted. The demand for community-based hunger relief that food banks provide is on the rise and its model – which has been tried and adopted in more than 60 countries globally – promises to help tackle the global challenges of hunger, malnutrition, food loss and waste.