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FAO presents best international practices to reduce food loss and waste

Collage: © FAO/Vladimir Mikheev
29/01/2019

Against the backdrop of depressing international statistics on food loss and waste (FLW), estimated at more than 1 billion tons per year (in value terms, it amounts to more than $700 billion annually), experts look for and propose optimal solutions to tackle the problem. FLW could be a hindrance in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon by 193 countries in 2015 at the United Nations (UN).

Russia, and all the other countries that have signed up to achieve the SDGs by 2030, have committed to reducing twofold food losses and waste. What is necessary to fulfill the commitment? This topical issue was at the heart of the exchanges at the international conference “What does it cost to save food?”

The event took place at the Expocenter on Krasnaya Presnya in Moscow in the framework of the Upakovka trade fair for packaging and processing industry.

The  co-organizers, FAO and Messe Düsseldorf, held the conference in the context of their SAVE FOOD Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction. The Initiative pursues the aim of reducing food losses and waste through measures that build upon each other: first comes promoting awareness of the acuteness of the problem, then the expertise of both public and private organizations is pooled together.

FAO and Messe Düsseldorf organize forums like the conference in Moscow worldwide. These events focus on providing networking platforms leading to positive engagement by all stakeholders, exploring investment opportunities and working out effective fundamental strategies to tackle FLW-related issues.

In his address, Robert van Otterdijk, FAO Agro-Industry Officer, highlighted the purpose and characteristics of the FAO-developed Global Food Loss Index (GFLI), which measures changes in the food losses that occur along the supply chain – from production up to (but not including) the retail level.

“The objective of the GFLI is to show the impact of policy and investment on the efficiency of the supply chain. The Indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, but data are not regularly produced by countries,” Van Otterdijk said.

“The main challenge is not in the calculation of the Index per se, but in obtaining the loss factors for the various stages of the supply chain and in aggregating them into a national Food Loss Percentage of a commodity.

To do that, countries need guidelines on how to cost-effectively collect, estimate and aggregate losses at the farm, transport, storage, industry and wholesale stages; on how to combine data sources and prioritize efforts,” FAO’s top expert on FLW recommended.

Three issues were at the focus of discussions at the conference.

Firstly, the forum drew the attention of the public and the authorities to the problems of food loss and waste. The speakers recommended to assess the scale and causes of FLW in Russia, to develop a road map, and to appoint a government institution responsible for its implementation (at the moment, there is no government agency charged with coordinating efforts to reduce FLW).

Secondly, the presenters highlighted international experience and best practice in reducing food loss and waste, in particular, national strategies ("national projects"), government policies, and legislative initiatives. Experts from Australia, Norway, France and the European Union addressed the audience.

The conference participants called for sustainable production and sensible use of resources. They opined that wholesale and retail companies (distributors and retailers) have an obligation to improve the efficiency of their work with placing orders for food, carefully redistributing rather than discarding what remains unsold. Tax benefits provided by the government to those companies that provide food products to charities must be an integral part of such policies. Today, regrettably, in many cases it is cheaper for businesses in Russia to throw away unused food rather than to donate it to charities.

Thirdly, the forum pointed out to the positive experience of the FLW reduction initiatives implemented in Russia by non-governmental organizations. However, in order to increase the efficiency and scale of these initiatives, the government’s positive engagement is required. The reason is that the development of a national strategy and the lobbying for the adoption of specific laws and recommendations aimed at reducing FLW is essential to promoting and supporting all actors along the food chain, who are genuinely concerned and directly involved with saving, sustainably using and rationally redistributing food products.  

The “What does it cost to save food?” conference  demonstrated the urgent need for closer cooperation between the authorities, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and the expert community for building a public consensus around the conundrum of food loss and waste. Such cooperation would be instrumental for developing an effective national strategy, including a legislative framework, that would help the Russian Federation fulfill its obligations with respect to the targets under the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Target 12.3. – cutting in half per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reducing food losses along production and supply chains (including post-harvest losses) by 2030.

29 January 2019, Moscow, Russian Federation