Globally, around 14 percent of food produced is lost between harvest and retail. This equates to a loss of $400 billion per year in food value, while an estimated 17 percent of total global food production is wasted (11 percent in households, 5 percent in the food service and 2 percent in retail).
Transforming agri-food systems to make them more efficient, inclusive and sustainable is key to prevent food loss and waste from continuing to undermine efforts to eradicate hunger, improve nutrition and reduce the strain on natural resources and the environment.
The message resonated on Wednesday, September 29, from an event during which the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), together with partners, marked International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste.
"We need to accelerate progress in achieving SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) target 12.3 by 2030 to halve global food waste and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses," FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said, warning that we only have "nine (harvest) seasons remaining to do so."
Added Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, "Food loss and waste account for up to 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. They use up precious land and water resources for, essentially, nothing. Putting a serious dent in food loss and waste will slow climate change, protect nature and increase food security - at a time when we desperately need these things to happen."
The ceremony took place on the second observance of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste which was instituted by the UN in 2019. It also included messages from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Italy's Minister of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, Stefano Patuanelli, Slovenia's Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Food, Joze Podgorsek, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, International Fund for Agriculture Development President, Gilbert F. Houngbo, and World Food Programme Deputy Executive Director, Amir Abdulla.
In his welcoming message, FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero Cullen noted that the presence of different partners at this event shows that "no one entity alone can tackle the issue of food loss and waste. It is essential we move to action and tackle the determinants of food loss and waste."
Rwanda's Director General for Environment and Climate Change, Beatrice Cyiza, contributed to an expert roundtable panel on accelerating the pace of food loss and waste reduction toward improving agri-food systems outcomes.
The ceremony followed on the heels of last week's UN Food Systems Summit whose outcomes include the creation of a Coalition on Food is Never Waste to implement action to reduce food loss and waste at country level. In parallel, FAO is also hosting the G20 Technical Platform on Food Loss and Waste, and the Food Coalition initiated by the Government of Italy.
Effective, efficient action
In his intervention, the FAO Director-General pointed to the need to address food loss and waste by incorporating successful innovation along the agri-food supply chain with up-scaled products, services, business models and technologies. Less food loss and waste would lead to more efficient land use and better water resource management with positive impacts on climate change and livelihoods.
"Successfully tackling food loss and waste means shifting towards more sustainable patterns of production and consumption, with increased availability of food and a reduced environmental footprint," Qu said". "We cannot continue losing 75 billion cubic meters of water each year in the production of fruits and vegetables," he added.
As co-custodian agency for SDG 12.3, aiming at reducing food waste at consumer level by 2030, FAO hosts the G20/FAO/IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) Technical Platform on Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste, facilitating the sharing of good practices among members. The 2019 State of Food and Agriculture focused on Food Losses, in particular, and the Global Food Loss Index. In June 2021, the FAO Conference endorsed the Voluntary Code of Conduct for Food Loss and Waste Reduction.
Food loss, as reported by FAO in the Food Loss Index, occurs from post-harvest up to, but not including, the retail level.
Food waste refers to the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by retailers, food service providers and consumers. Food is wasted in many ways:
Fresh produce that deviates from what is considered optimal, for example in terms of shape, size and color, is often removed from the supply chain during sorting operations.
Foods that are close to, at or beyond the "best-before" date are often discarded by retailers and consumers.
Large quantities of wholesome edible food are often unused or left over and discarded from household kitchens and eating establishments.