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Director General  José Graziano da Silva

Food waste, food loss: a challenge for the 2030 Agenda 2030, a responsibility of all

By FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva

Amidst the pressing global issues discussed during last week’s UN General Assembly, FAO and its partners succeeded in drawing the world’s attention towards an important challenge to be tackled for the success of the Agenda 2030: food waste and food loss.

The Rome-based agencies (FAO, WFP and IFAD), together with governments (UAE, Germany and Italy), private sector and civil society representatives, renewed the call that greater cooperation among all stakeholders is needed in order to address this challenge.

In my address, I stressed how it is impossible to achieve Zero Hunger without tackling food loss and waste and how it requires a multidisciplinary and holistic approach, bringing together the impact of this on climate change and environmental degradation – something which is central to FAO’s Save Food initiative.

Action must involve the whole food chain “from the farm to the forks”, including distribution, retail, restaurants, and so on. A starting point is to develop new methodologies to better gauge the scale of the problem - the figure that is cited most often, that one third of food lost and wasted is just a big, vague number. We see that in some parts of Africa, for example, the loss in fisheries goes up to two thirds, and also some vegetables, especially in developed countries, can go up to 50 percent.

I also underscored how food waste is more an issue for developed countries and food loss is more in developing countries due to the lack of infrastructure, so it is important to make investments. Importantly, for the private sector, but also for governments and other stakeholders, the benefits of investments are borne out through concrete evidence. I cited the Champions 12.3 commissioned study The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste’s findings that for every $1 companies invested to reduce food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs.

Just as important is highlighting the role retailers and consumers play. The findings of an interesting study suggests we need to adopt behaviours that break, on the psychological and material levels, the “squander sequence”. As one of its authors points out, the most successful anti-food waste campaigns are those that allow us to raise awareness about food waste without putting blame on consumers, but rather by appealing to consumer trust and persuading them that buying more food than is actually need, does not necessarily mean they are “good and thoughtful parents”, or generous hosts. Consumer education is also part of this, including ensuring they do not misinterpret expiration dates, nor judge quality or safety based upon appearance. Speaking at the food loss and waste event, I cited the Portuguese Fruta Feia or “ugly fruit” initiative informing people that such products still have the same or even better vitamins and proteins.

The direct and active participation of Governments is crucial for this endeavour. The United Arab Emirates is an example on how the efforts of fighting hunger and food waste could be institutionalized through launching the UAE Food Bank Initiative. , including aims to turn Dubai the first zero food waste city in the world. “Wasted food is also waste resources”, as said UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Dr. Thani Al Zeyoudi, during the NY event.

The importance of partnerships: FAO and Unilever seek improve people’s access to food

FAO believes in the power of partnerships across sectors and institutions, incorporating this in all aspects of our work. At the sidelines of the UNGA’s event, I also had the opportunity to sign a Letter of Intent with Unilever’s Chief Executive and SDG Advocate, Paul Polman, with the aim of helping to ensure better access to food and the promotion of sustainable agriculture.

The collaboration between FAO and Unilever is geared to pursue five strategic points of intervention, including digital innovation, land governance and resilience building for smallholder farmers as well as climate change and food loss and waste. It will cover countries throughout the globe, starting with Latin America, and is part of FAO's Strategy for Partnerships with the Private Sector to achieve core Sustainable Development Goals.

A remarkable example of change

In conclusion, I’d like to point out that during my participation in the UN General Assembly I had the opportunity to meet representatives of many countries and institutions and reaffirm our joint commitments. However, allow me to refer to one particular encounter that provided a special source of inspiration. This happened when I attended the side-event My dream is to end hunger in my lifetime whereone of the 17 United Nations Young Leaders for the SDGs, Ankit Kawatra, spoke, providing us with an exemplary example of change. In 2014, at the age of 22, Ankit started a youth-run, non-for-profit organization called Feeding India in 2014. What began as a door-to-door appeal to caterers and restaurants to donate their excess food has turned into an app that has facilitated over 8 500,000 meals served in more than 45 cities in India.

Ankit ended his speech with the words: “My dream is to end hunger in my lifetime. And I know that if we all come together – governments, private and public organizations, not for profits and individuals, this collective dream can be realized.” This is the dream that we all share.