Make a real difference: Reduce food loss and waste!

FAO Director-General urges all stakeholders to develop open-minded solutions to a problem affecting more than 30 percent of the food we produce

10 September 2021, Rome/Jinan - The scale of global food loss and waste is proof of poorly functioning agri-food systems, and reducing it "really matters and can make a difference," QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), said Friday at an international conference attended by ministers, diplomats and experts from around the world. 

"We cannot end hunger and all forms of malnutrition if we do not address the high levels of food loss and waste," he said at the three-day event held virtually and on-site in Jinan, China, and organized by China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, the National Development and Reform Commission, the National Food and Strategic Reserves Administration and the Shandong Provincial People's Government.

Also addressing the event was Ji Bingxuan, the Vice Chairperson of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, who delivered the congratulatory letter from President Xi Jinping of China. Speakers also included the Ministers for Agriculture of numerous countries such as China, France, Mexico, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, as well as Agnes Kalibata, UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, scheduled for later this month.

Food loss and waste (FLW) occurs across the supply chain, from tillage to the table, with around 14 percent of all food produced lost between the post-harvest and retail stages, Ma Youxiang, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China cited the 2019 State of Food and Agriculture report published by FAO. Another 17 percent was further wasted at the retail, food-service and consumer levels, the Director-General noted.

"These high levels of food loss and waste, valued at $400 billion annually, could feed around 1.26 billion more people per year," Qu said, noting that FAO's latest estimates point to up to 811 million undernourished people in the world, and billions unable to afford a healthy diet.

FLW also generates around 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and uses a quarter of the freshwater used by agriculture each year.

Effectively tackling the problem - and producing more with less - requires "commitment, collaboration, partnerships and increased support from all stakeholders" as well as solid, scientific and evidence-based understanding of the root causes of food loss and waste, Qu said.

"A single grain of rice comes with a thousand drops of sweat

Quoting the above Chinese proverb, Director-General Qu emphasized the need for all "to be open to new ideas" in the quest for solutions tailored for different contexts.

Jinan, for example, has been applauded for its pioneering efforts to use cockroaches to eat unused food, and then to serve as livestock feed, as well as reducing pressure on landfills. The conference is also showcasing some internet-of-things applications that are working to reduce FLW.

"Innovations in business models, institutional arrangements, technologies and digital solutions such as Artificial Intelligence can all contribute to reducing food loss and waste," Qu said.

Key areas for attention and action range from inadequate access to agricultural inputs and poorly-timed harvesting operations to inadequate storage logistics, insufficient attention to food safety standards, lack of consumer awareness of the household cost of FLW and retail incentives to purchase more than needed.

FAO, which is the custodian agency for SDG12.3, which targets reducing food waste by 2030, has set up the Technical Platform on Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste, facilitating the adoption by Members of good practices.  It also devoted the 2018 The State of Food and Agriculture report to the subject of FLW.

The Director-General noted that this goal is a priority of the Food Coalition, an initiative proposed by Italy and hosted by FAO. He also reminded that FAO's Ministerial Meeting in June 2021 endorsed the Voluntary Code of Conduct for Food Loss and Waste Reduction, which recommends an array of actions, principles and standards to guide improvement and to promote more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems that leave no one behind.

The scale of FLW, and the numerous points for intervention from till to table, make collaboration and coordination essential, Qu said. "This includes the public and private sectors, together with academia, international organizations, financial institutions, producers, consumers and civil society," he emphasized.

29 September is International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste.

Photo: ©FAO/...
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Director-General QU Dongyu addressed at the International Conference on Food Loss and Waste held in Jinan, China.