Director-General  QU Dongyu
A statement by FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu
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Vatican, 11 November 2019


Conference on Food Loss and Waste Reduction


Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

I would like to thank the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Rockefeller Foundation for convening this important conference on food loss and waste reduction.

I am honoured to deliver the keynote speech for this session. Since 2011 FAO has been raising global awareness for the problem of food loss and waste. We estimated then that about a third that we yearly produce in the world is lost and wasted. Subsequently the issue of food loss and waste has become of great public concern.

In 2015, world leaders committed to eradicate poverty, end hunger, and combat climate chance, and committed to address the challenge of reducing food loss and waste.

As a result, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes Target 12.3, to halve global food waste at retail and consumer levels and reduce food loss along production and supply chains by 2030.

To provide more clarity on the subject and to measure progress towards SDG Target 12.3, FAO’s 2011 estimate is replaced by two separate indicators: the Food Loss Index and the Food Waste Index.

The Food Loss Index, prepared by FAO, provides estimates from post-harvest loss or decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by food suppliers in the chain up to, but not including, the retail stage.

The index monitors developments over time in the percentage of food losses; this allows to track progress against SDG Target 12.3.

The Food Waste Index, for which UNEP is the custodian, will provide global estimates on the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by retailers, food service providers and consumers.

FAO is supporting countries in developing strategies and implementing actions to reduce food loss and waste.

In that respect, FAO’s latest edition of the State of Food and Agriculture SOFA 2019 has been released.,

We need to know as accurately as possible how much food is lost and wasted, as well as where and why.

We need to understand the effects of food loss and waste on poverty, food security and the environment.

So what is the current situation?

Well I don’t want to say too much here, as you can read it online. The value of these losses is upwards of 400 billion USD, but I have always considered that it is not just a question of money. To exemplify the yearly damage this causes: Fruits and Vegetables lost per year cause the loss of 75 billion cubic metres of water and 912 trillion kilo-calories.

It’s not just a question of money it’s also a question of the environment. Meat and animal products lost per year mean that 715 million hectares of land were used for nothing.

In terms of Greenhouse Gas emissions, the food lost is associated with approximately 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent.

We are now working on building capacities to obtain more and better data to understand where and how food losses and waste occur in the food supply chain and the determinants behind them.

Where the loss reductions occur – in terms of geography and phase in the food supply chain – matters for the impact of interventions.

For example, interventions to boost farmers’ incomes may focus on on-farm loss reduction, while Greenhouse Gas emissions are best addressed by focusing on consumer waste.

Interventions, however, can have more than one objective and may also bring side-benefits.

FAO’s work in South and South-East Asia with smallholder fruit and vegetable producers is a good concrete example.

It was found that, for tomatoes, the highest levels of losses occur at harvesting and during transportation.

To sustainably address food loss and waste, Farmers need to recognise that it comes with a cost. So we have to analyse the profit elevation.

Weighing costs and benefits will help make sure that the intervention is the right fit.  

There will be times when incentives need to be put in place to bring about change: reducing losses, improving the quality and safety of food and generating greater income for farmers.

There is a role for government support aimed at improving the private incentives to reduce food loss and waste.

Public interventions that favour investments in training, technology and innovation can help expedite implementation.

We need to scale up the successes achieved in field projects in order to impact the national food loss indicators and in turn the global indicator.

Especially innovative approaches – such as chilling milk with solar coolers or biogas-powered chillers –contribute significantly to maintaining food quality and reducing losses.

Last week we had the Montreal Protocol Secretariat Meeting at FAO and many Ministers of Environment were present to discuss how to improve the chilling systems as they are connected to the food systems. 

But these new approaches need to be financed.

We need to be open to new ideas and new ways of doing business. For example, innovative business models with the participation of the private sectors are required to make available rural infrastructure and the technology needed to support the training of small holders. 

We also need to learn from successes achieved in other sectors – for example, harnessing the use of ICT and digital innovation for upscaling improved practices, supporting training and providing technical support to accelerate the process of change. 

More use of private sectors best practices is needed. A hands-on example of engagement with the private sectors is SAVE FOOD a joint initiative of the FAO, UNEP, Messe Düsseldorf, and Interpack.

At the small holder level, innovative and equitable partnerships, including public-private partnerships, must be strengthened or developed. A good concrete example for innovative projects supporting small-holders is the one financed by Switzerland and jointly implemented by FAO, IFAD and WFP in Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. It addresses food losses in grain and pulse value chains.

Not only is it important to learn from experiences in other sectors; there is also a need for technical exchange within and across regions - through North-South, South-South and Triangular cooperation.

Awareness raising and education are vital to tackling the problem of food loss and waste.  This needs to start at the family-level: educating our children on the respect and appreciation of food is fundamental.

In China, we have a proverb that says “A single grain of rice comes with a thousand drops of sweat”.

As Pope Francis rightly said, “Increased awareness of the problem and a greater sense of social responsibility will prove an investment, both short and long term”. He rightly considered Food Loss and Waste a “social tragedy can no longer to be tolerated”.

Better awareness of societies across the world will create new healthy and sustainable consumption patterns. FAO is playing its part in this aspect as well: At the request of member countries – if all goes according to plan – we will have the observance of an International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste with partners and stakeholders, on 29 September 2020. So next year is a big year, since we will also celebrate the 75th anniversary of the establishment of FAO. We want to make a big impact on that.

In conclusion, I wish to summarize with three key messages.

First, we cannot end hunger and all forms of malnutrition if we do not address the inefficiencies and inequities in our food systems that lead to the high levels of food losses and waste.

Second, to be truly effective our efforts need to be informed by a solid, scientific and evidence-based understanding of the problem

Third, we need commitment. Globally scaled-up action to reduce food loss and waste is significant to reach the SDGs; but this will only happen through collaboration, partnerships, as well as increased public and private sectors support.

FAO is ready to work with everyone here today to promote more ambitious collective actions to address the problem of food loss and waste in the world.

Thank you very much.