SAVE FOOD: Iniciativa mundial sobre la reducción de la pérdida y el desperdicio de alimentos

Reduction of food loss and waste urgent in China

30 Nov 2015


Original Chinese version published on October 20, 2015 on

JIANG Heping, Fellow
JIANG Hui, Ph.D. student
Institute of Agricultural Economics Research, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences

The amount of foods imported to China has surged dramatically in recent years, approaching nearly 6% of total domestic food production. China is facing a great challenge of ensuring food security, but the country’s annual amount of food loss and waste occurred in the stages of food supply chain before final consumption, such as household and warehouse storage, transport, and processing, surpasses 35 billion kg. This number is nearly as much as 6% of China’s total food production and equals to the food output of Jilin Province in 2014. The situation is more shocking if food waste in consumption is counted in. On one hand, China is trying to increase food output at all costs; on the other hand, enormous amount of food is wasted. In which stages does the waste occur? How to systematically reduce it? Presently, China’s food production can just meet its consumption need. Answers to these questions would be of great practical significance to ease this tightness and effectively ensure food security.

1. The severity of food waste in China

a. Loss in harvest

The adoption rate of mechanized harvesting has been continuously on the rise in China. In 2013, the integrated adoption rate of mechanization in agriculture (plowing, planting, and harvesting) reached 59.5%. However, the utilization of mechanized harvesting varies among regions and staple crops. For example, in the South the mechanization rate is lower than in the North, so germination and mold growth happen to paddy rice during rainy periods, resulting in great loss and waste. Also, inefficient design in harvesting machinery leads to increased amount of crop leftover after harvesting. One research group find that in major crop production regions such as Hunan and Hubei Provinces, loss attributed to equipment and technological reasons is as high as around 10% of total output.

b. Loss in storage

In 2014, over half of China’s total food production of 609 million tonnes was stored in farmer households. Because of the poor condition of household storage facilities, inadequate drying capacity, and the lack of technical support services, about 8% of food stored in farmer households is lost every year. This amounts to over 20 billion kg, equivalent to the annual yield of an average crop production province. The most common direct causes of such loss are insects, molds, and birds. For instance, in Jilin City, 80–90% of farmer households store grains by spreading them on the yards, and the loss rate of this way of storage is as high as 11.77%. In the South, Guangxi reports a grain loss rate of 9.7% due to improper postharvest storage, which translates to 1.358 billion kg or 4.05 billion yuan. Meanwhile, nearly 120 billion kg of the country’s grain storage capacity at the enterprise level is attributed to old and unsafe warehouses of poor conditions. This results in over 7.5 billion kg of loss annually. On May 31, 2013, a great fire at Lindian Grain Warehouse (owned by State Grain Storage Corp.) burnt over 40,000 tonnes of grains, causing a direct economic loss of 3.079 million yuan.

c. Waste in transport

Much of food is still transported in conventional ways in China and there is a shortage of specialized transport vehicles. Only about 25% of grains is transported in loose form. Most grain harvest is transported in conventional packaging (jute and plastic woven bags). Grains are generally taken out of the bags and stored in loose form, and packed again in further transport. Around 5% of grains is lost due to leaking and scattering in this practice, which is much higher than the national requirement of 2.5%. More than 30 billion tonnes of loss is attributed to this reason.

d. Waste in fine processing

To meet the demand of greatly improved living standards in China, most rice processors polishes rice twice, or even more times, in order to increase its commercial value. The over-processing not only reduces output rate and increases the cost for rice processors, but also deteriorates the nutritional value of rice. According to the most recent data from Ministry of Agriculture, loss in the processing stage is more than 7.5 billion kg. The Rice Sub-association of China Food Industry Association estimates that if the market share of refined rice continues to rise, annual rice loss would be as high as 20 billion kg, enough to feed 130 million people.

e. Tremendous amount of waste in catering business

An expert group of China Agricultural University conducted a research in February 2012, systematically analyzing the content of nutrients such as protein and fat in the leftovers of 2,700 different sizes of dinner tables among three levels of cities (large, mid-size, and small). Even the conservative estimate revealed that from 2007 to 2008 food waste in catering business contained 8 million tonnes of protein (equivalent to total annual need of 260 million people) and 3 million tonnes of fat (equivalent to total annual need of 130 million people). Beijing City generates 18,000 tonnes domestic garbage per day, in which huge amount of unconsumed foods including bread, sandwiches, fast food, large pieces of fish and meat, and unopened bags of rice can be easily found.

2. Policy recommendations on the promotion of food loss and waste reduction

a. Consider loss reduction as important as increasing production

The current policy system of agricultural subsidization mainly includes price guarantee for staple crops and subsidization on food, production materials, seeds, and agricultural machinery. These policies easily lead local government officials to focus on increase crop production and set the increase amount as a goal in performance evaluation, while pay little attention to the huge waste in food supply chain. Therefore, it is necessary to shift the emphasis of current evaluation and incentive system. In addition to output, the region’s loss rate in production, storage, transport, and processing stages should also be assessed. Subsidization and incentives should be based on both increase in production and loss reduction.

b. Include reduction of food loss and waste in the law system

  • Further improve the design of policies and legal regulations. Build the systems of management, pricing, and penalization for food loss and waste, so that the whole society cherish food as a "scarce resource." Enact Food Law as soon as possible.
  • Develop measures and systems on food loss and waste reduction from the following aspects:
    • Education and monitoring.
    • Reduction of food loss and waste in storage, transport, processing, and consumption.
    • Reinforce research on food loss and waste reduction and promote appropriate technologies.
    • Promote the awareness of food loss and waste by punishing typical violations.

c. Increase investment on food loss and waste reduction, especially on infrastructure

  • Set up special funds in budget plans for the construction of small to mid-scale loss reduction infrastructures, with emphasis on major grain producing regions and novel types of producers.
  • Strongly support research on storage, transport, processing technologies, and equipment bundles. The Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Agriculture, State Administration of Grain, and other ministries should jointly establish special funds and projects focusing on such researches.
  • Build new warehouses in major grain production regions. Increase the capacity and upgrade the operating conditions of current facilities.
  • In major grain production regions, support farmer co-ops and large-scale crop producing households in building storage facilities with drying equipment. Support farmers in building natural ventilation barn, small drying equipment, drying silos, and other primary processing facilities.

d. Reinforce research on food loss and waste reduction and promote appropriate technologies

  • Exploit the full potential of modern agricultural technology in food loss and waste reduction. Raise the standards and technological requirements in transport and processing.
  • When constructing new facilities and upgrading current equipment and operation procedures, large-scale, state-owned grain storage and processing enterprises should take reduction of loss and waste into careful consideration. State-owned enterprises should act as leaders in technology adoption and dissemination.
  • Encourage innovation in storage technologies. Improve storage conditions. Conduct research on key technical problems and disseminate the solutions. Promote the use of mechanical ventilation, low temperature storage, integrated high moisture storage, and other technologies. Ensure the safety of warehouses.
  • With emphasis on paddy production regions in the Northeast and the South, promote the adoption of loss reduction technologies. Improve production efficiency by promoting the utilization of by-products such as rice bran and wheat bran.

e. Guide the society to form a rational perception on food consumption

  • Educate personnel in production, storage, and processing. Regularly hold training on career dedication and loss and waste prevention.
  • Actively promote the habit of consuming simple meals and keeping balanced diets. Promote the value that “saving food is glorious and wasting food is shameful” through social guidance, public media, school education, and legal systems.
Tags: China