Nearly one-third of food produced is lost or wasted. During the month of September, FSNet-Africa focused on how we can reduce food loss and waste in pursuit of the SDG 2 goal of #ZeroHunger and the SDG 12 goal of ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns (in particular SDG 12.3, which focuses on food loss and waste). To this end, the #FSNetAfrica4ZeroWaste campaign was launched.
To appreciate the importance of this type of campaign, one needs to understand what is meant by food loss and waste, the underlying causes thereof, and how this links to global sustainability goals such as those contained in the SDGs. Food loss typically happens in the earlier stages of the food supply chain (during production, processing, packaging, storage, and distribution) and involves a reduction in quality and/or quantity of food which then leads to food being disposed of prior to reaching retailers and consumers. Food waste occurs when actors towards the end of the food supply chain (specifically those who sell food directly to consumers and the consumers themselves) discard food because it has gone past its expiration date, has spoiled, or sometimes because of oversupply in markets.
The massive amounts of food that are produced but not actually eaten have far-reaching negative impacts in a world where the number of people suffering from malnutrition and facing acute hunger continues to rise, with current estimates indicating that more than a quarter of a billion (+-265 million) people live on the brink of starvation. These impacts include increased greenhouse gas emissions – among the primary drivers of climate change – and wastage of natural resources such as water. In fact, “around 38% of total energy consumption in the global food system is … utilized to produce food that is either lost or wasted”, and 70% of the water used globally is for agricultural purposes.
Reducing food loss and waste requires proactive steps at every stage in the food system. To explore what some of these steps might be, FSNet-Africa interviewed one of its fellows, Dr Antoinette Anim-Jnr, during an #InConversationWithFSNetAfrica episode on Twitter Spaces. Dr Anim-Jnr, who is a researcher and lecturer from the Department of Animal Science at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, is focusing on “Valorising fruit by-products for sustainable small ruminant production in Ghana” for her FSNet-Africa research project. This project explores the use of by-products from the fruit-processing industry as an alternative animal feed source. This not only aims to help make ruminant livestock production practices more eco-friendly and sustainable, but also aligns with global efforts to identify innovative ways to dispose of (and utilise) food waste.
Another highlight of the #FSNetAfrica4ZeroWaste campaign was the commemoration of International Day of Awareness of Food Loos and Waste on 29 September. Researchers in the FSNet-Africa network discussed approaches to guiding more nutritious and sustainable food choices by leveraging the entire food system in a research article entitled “Guiding Nutritious Food Choices and Diets along Food Systems”. This article emphasises that “food loss and waste is now appreciated as key to sustainable food supply chains. Investment and incentivised initiatives are needed to foster diverse food production, preservation, [and] distribution and [to] influence consumers’ behaviour and consumption.”
FSNet-Africa fellow, Dr Fides Izdori, from the University of Dar es Salaam, contributed to the conversation around #ZeroWaste in a blog on the “Socio-economic impacts of tomat
o post-harvest losses (PHL) on women”. Dr Izdori discussed why and where tomato losses occur as well as strategies to reduce this.
Specific steps that can be taken by farmers, transporters, retailers, and consumers were outlined. For example, retailers are encouraged to display products in such a way as to reduce unnecessary exposure to temperature change, while consumers need to consider how they can change their behaviour around the buying and storage of fresh merchandise (e.g., buying ripe tomatoes to refrigerate/ freeze at home).
The culmination of #FSNetAfrica4ZeroWaste was a campaign on Twitter in which members of the network were encouraged to tweet responses to the question “What will you do to reduce food waste?” and then tag others to respond as well. This campaign brought the key messages around food loss and waste home by focusing on practical, real-world actions that everyday people can take. Some of the responses included freezing fresh produce to prevent them getting spoiled and in order to preserve them for later use, using food scraps for compost, and using oddly shaped or bruised vegetables first when cooking in order to avoid them getting spoiled.
As the proverb says: “waste not, want not”. All food systems actors need to contribute to efforts to use resources and commodities wisely – including through the reduction of food loss and waste – so that we have enough food and resources for all.