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Food Loss and Waste Tops the Agenda at International Conference in The Hague

Panoramic view of the High Level Roundtable discussions
10 Jul 2015

THE VERDANT coastal city of The Hague in The Netherlands is the global center of international justice, hosting both the International Criminal Court of Justice as well as Europol – the policing arm of the EU. However, between June 15 and 20, the issue of food loss and waste reigned high on the agenda. During this week, ‘s-Gravenhage, as it is known to the Dutch, was home to the international conference, ‘No More Food to Waste – Global Action to Stop Food Loss and Waste’. 

Organized by the Ministry of Economic Affairs of The Netherlands, in collaboration with the Government of Viet Nam, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and United Nations Environment Programme, No More Food to Waste threw down the gauntlet to the over 325 participants – from around 60 countries – to create solutions, innovate and build sustainable partnerships for food loss and waste reduction.

A mix of participants from the private sector, government, research institutions and international and local development organizations were organized in working groups, each group given the task to map out and report on solutions to areas central to food loss and waste reduction. In addition to plenaries where these solutions were presented, there were sessions on best practices, governance and partnerships, finance and investments for food loss and waste reduction, as well as information gaps and data collection.

The event was chaired by the Minister of Agriculture for the Netherlands, Sharon Dijksma, who called on governments to make country level commitments to ‘embed timed and clearly identified targets, strategies and programs’ into their food loss and waste efforts. Dijksma also called for increased efforts to measure food loss and waste and to track progress towards reduction goals. ‘We need initiatives like the development of global protocol to coherently measure food loss and waste throughout the food chain and tools to reduce them by the Consumer Goods Forum’, Dijksma said. Recognizing the nexus between food waste and climate change, Dijksma called for these strategies to be aligned with good agricultural practices. 

Dijksma also noted that sharing country experiences in FLW reduction, particularly ‘policy incentives, market innovations, consumer education and recovery and redistribution of otherwise lost or wasted food, business incentives and private sector investments’, were central to food loss and waste reduction on a global scale.

Ren WangAssistant Director-General for Agriculture and Consumer Protection at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, stressed that food loss and waste was not an ‘accident’ but a consequence of the nature of food systems. He noted that all efforts to curtail food loss and waste (FLW) must have a systematic approach. ‘The very extent of food losses and waste invites one to consider them not as an accident but as an integral part of food systems, as a consequence of the way food systems function, technically, culturally and economically’, said Wang.  

Wang also called for greater knowledge sharing in order to build on ideas and to expand scalable and relevant practices.  Wang introduced participants to the work of the recently  launched Community of Practice (COP) on Food Losses, a new a platform where FAO and partners working on food loss and waste reduction are able to share approaches, solutions, expertise and issues in food losses. The COP was launched in October 2014.

Additionally, Wang informed audience members about one of the major outcomes of the G20 meeting in May 2015 – the establishment of a new platform on food losses and waste reduction. ‘… FAO was asked together with IFPRI and other relevant international organizations, to establish a platform, building on existing systems, for sharing information and experiences in measuring and reducing food losses and waste, ’ he said.

Selected Conference Outcomes

During the working group on measuring food loss, participants encouraged policy makers to create initiatives which support small-scale farmers in adopting new technologies to measure food loss - through home grown, local initiatives as well as multi-national projects. Simple technologies such as solar powered Wi-Fi stations to access data , cell phones with solar charging stations as well as the use of more complex technologies such as the GS1 ITC portal, led  by the UN Global Compact were advocated. The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC), Southern African Development Community (SADC) were also suggested to be ideal hosts for data collection for the regions, an activity which participants strongly noted would further develop regional integration.

Attendees, particularly field-based NGOs such as Feedback (formerly Feeding the 5000), highlighted the need to examine the role of unfair trade practices as a source of food waste.  Some participants argued that in many cases in parts of the world, when a company wants to cancel an order they often reject goods based on cosmetic grounds. This was particularly true during times of surplus production or market gluts. Participants called for assessments of the human rights implications of these unfair trade practices, particularly on smallholder farmers and that strategies be developed to protect vulnerable groups.

During the High Level Roundtable which included Ministers of Agriculture as well as leaders of NGOs and other advocacy groups, representatives suggested that a dedicated week of action for food loss and waste reduction be created among other social impact initiatives. This goal of this initiative would be to engage the society as a whole, with media as a major partner.

Participants also called for the provision of greater funding such as small-scale loans and seed funding to bottom up innovators in order for them to develop ideas and initiatives.

Using the astounding success of the reduction of maternal mortality (MDG 5) due to increased public action and advocacy on the part of national and global leaders in the 1990’s, The World Resources Institute advocated for a ‘Champions of 12.3’ campaign to fight food loss and waste. 12.3 refers to the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 – Sustainable Consumption and Production. The Champions of 12.3 idea gained much momentum throughout the conference, with organizations such as the Nestlé, UNEP and the FAO showing great interest in developing the idea further.