The report said half the food bought in Europe and the US ended up in the bin
Better Use of Our Finite Resources
As much as half of the world's food, amounting to two billion tonnes worth, is wasted, a UK-based report has claimed
Such a projection presents mankind withwideranging social, economic, environmental and political issues that need to be addressed today to ensure a sustainable future for all. One key issue is how to produce more food in a world of finite resources.
Today, we produce about four billion metric tonnes of food per annum. Yet due to poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation, as well as market and consumer wastage, it is estimated that 30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach.
Furthermore, this figure does not reflect the fact that large amounts of land, energy, fertilisers and water have also been lost in the production of foodstuffs which simply end up as waste.
This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands.
In 2010, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers identified three principal emerging population groups across the world, based on characteristics of economic development.
• Fully developed, mature, post-industrial societies, such as those in Europe, characterised by stable or declining populations which are increasing in age.
• Late-stage developing nations that are currently industrialising rapidly, for example China, which will experience decelerating rates of population growth, coupled with increasing affluence and age profile.
• Newly developing countries that are beginning to industrialise, primarily in Africa, with high to very high population growth rates (typically doubling or tripling their populations by 2050), and characterised by a predominantly young age profile.
Each group over the coming decades will need to address different issues surrounding food
production, storage and transportation, as well as consumer expectations, if we are to continue to feed all our people.
Third World and Developing Nations
In less-developed countries, such as those of sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia, wastage tends to occur primarily at the farmer-producer end of the supply chain. Inefficient harvesting, inadequate local transportation and poor infrastructure mean that produce is frequently handled inappropriately and stored under unsuitable farm site conditions.
As the development level of a country increases,so the food loss problem generally moves further up the supply chain with deficiencies in regional and national infrastructure having the largest
impact. In South-East Asian countries for example, losses of rice can range from 37% to 80% of total production depending on development stage, which amounts to total wastage in the region of about 180 million tonnes annually.
In China, a country experiencing rapid development, the rice loss figure is about 45%, whereas in lessdeveloped Vietnam, rice losses between the field and the table can amount to 80% of production.
In mature, fully developed countries such as the UK, more-efficient farming practices and better transport, storage and processing facilities ensure that a larger proportion of the food produce reaches markets and consumers. However, characteristics associated with modern consumer culture mean produce is often wasted through retail and customer behaviour.
Major supermarkets, in meeting consumer expectations, will often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables at the farm because they do not meet exacting marketing standards for their physical characteristics, such as size and appearance. For example, up to 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is never harvested as a result of such practices. Globally, retailers generate 1.6 million tonnes of food waste annually in this way.
Of the produce that does appear in the supermarket, commonly used sales promotions frequently encourage customers to purchase excessive quantities which, in the case of perishable foodstuffs, inevitably generates wastage in the home. Overall between 30% and 50% of what has been bought in developed countries is thrown away by the purchaser.
Controlling and reducing the level of wastage is frequently beyond the capability of the individual farmer, distributor or consumer, since it depends on market philosophies, security of energy supply, quality of roads and the presence of transport hubs. These are all related more to societal, political and economic norms, as well as better-engineered infrastructure, rather than to agriculture. In most cases the sustainable solutions needed to reduce waste are well known.
The challenge is transferring this know-how to where it is needed, and creating the political and social environment which encourages both transfer and adoption of these ideas to take place.
Wasting food means losing not only life-supporting nutrition but also precious resources, including land, water and energy. These losses will be exacerbated by future population growth and dietary trends that are seeing a shift away from grain-based foods and towards consumption of animal products. As nations become more affluent in the coming decades through development, per capita calorific intake from meat consumption is set to rise 40% by mid-century. These products require significantly more resource to produce. As a global society therefore, tackling food waste will help contribute towards addressing a number of
key resource issues:
Effective Land Usage
Over the last five decades, improved farming techniques and technologies have helped to significantly increase crop yields along with a 12% expansion of farmed land use. However, with global food production already utilising about 4.9Gha of the 10Gha usable land surface
without impacting unfavourably on what remains of the world’s natural ecosystems appears unlikely. The challenge is that an increase in animal-based production will require greater land and resource requirement, as livestock farming demands extensive land use. One hectare of land can, for example, produce rice or potatoes for 19–22 people per annum. The same area will produce enough lamb or beef for only one or two people. Considerable tensions are likely to emerge, as the need for food competes with demands for ecosystem preservation and biomass production as a renewable energy source.
Over the past century, fresh water abstraction for human use has increased at more than double the rate of population growth. Currently about 3.8 trillion m3 of water is used by humans per annum. About 70% of this is consumed by the global agriculture sector, and the level of use will continue to rise over the coming decades. Indeed, depending on how food is produced and the validity of forecasts for demographic trends, the demand for water in food production could reach 10–13 trillion m3 annually by mid-century. This is 2.5 to 3.5 times greater than the total human use of fresh water today.