Investing in the future of food
How we produce and consume food comes at a great cost to nature, but our inefficiency and wastefulness contributes to an incredible global scandal. The 1.3 billion tonnes of food lost or wasted every year amounts to US$1trillion in economic costs, around US$700billion in environmental costs and around US$900billion in social costs. As the world grapples with COVID-19, this waste can not be tolerated. Building back better will mean more of the food we produce gets eaten and goes to people in need. While systemic changes are required to address food loss and waste, we also need innovative solutions that benefit local communities, and have the potential to be scaled and replicated globally.
The pandemic has had unprecedented impacts on the world’s food supply. Restrictions on social interaction and manual labor, especially foreign labourers, have led to produce going unharvested. Market disruptions to long, inflexible supply chains have led to supply chain losses. In some countries there are food shortages; in others, the lack of shipping and cold chain options has led to excess and unutilized food. All this has emphasized the hunger nearly 700 million people face everyday, with concerns that an extra 130 million people are on the edge of starvation.
With the threat of food insecurity increasing, many are becoming more aware of the need to tackle food loss and waste. To do this successfully will require systemic transformation, including global mapping of food supplies, more efficient storage and transportation solutions, improved food banking, and flexible means to divert excesses to the places they are needed most. We must have more transparent data sharing and real-time market information that allows food systems to quickly adapt and shift distribution where needed. These system-level transformations must be addressed across the entire supply chain, with various stakeholders and communities at either end of the food loss and waste spectrum - both those who suffer from a lack of availability due to losses, and those who may drive waste through inattention or inefficiency.
For five years, WWF has been working with consumer-facing businesses to tackle food loss and waste, and we are already seeing promising results. HotelKitchen.org, launched in 2017, has accelerated global adoption of food waste reduction efforts within the hospitality industry and incentivized restaurants and grocery retailers to follow. However, there is much still to be done. While we continue our work with policymakers, businesses and investors, WWF is also supporting the development of innovative solutions in country offices across our own global network that can deliver impact on a national level.
Four such projects which are rapidly developing are:
1. WWF Kenya - Youth Empowerment in Naivasha, Kenya to Promote Green Growth Through Market Linkages
Naivasha is a remote water scarce basin located in Kenya, a country where between 30 to 50% of food is lost before it even reaches consumers. In Naivasha, consumers lack regular access to fresh produce due to the long turnaround time that farmers need to deliver orders.
The WWF Kenya team conceptualised the establishment of a centrally-located, youth led, “green” food store, which will house an assortment of sustainably produced horticulture products. Over time, this system hopes to reduce farmer surplus and reduce pressure to expand agriculture’s footprint into wildlife habitat.
2. WWF Philippines - Soilmate: A Systematic IT Solution to Food Waste Landfill Diversion through Composting
In the Philippines, the hospitality industry has expressed its collective interest to save the environment, but most hotels still dispose of their food waste in landfills.
The WWF Philippines team developed a partnership model between a food waste composting company (Greenspace). The entire process will be managed through an App that helps hotels measure and reduce food waste by scheduling drop offs and collections.
3. WWF Greece - Food provides - Food waste fighters
Contract caterers are one of the biggest players in Greece’s catering industry, serving up to 6.1 billion meals every year. The biggest contract caterer, Gefsinus, aims to reduce food loss and waste without compromising on the quality of its meals.
The WWF Greece team has established a partnership with Gefsinus to co-design a training toolkit that the caterer can use to train its employees on sound food waste management. The toolkit will also become part of Gefsinus’s training for future employees, establishing a generation of Food Waste Warriors within the company and consolidating the caterer’s position as a champion of sustainability in its industry.
4. WWF Pakistan - Raise awareness and provide evidence to facilitate the creation of new FLW policies in Pakistan
Pakistan’s food supply chain has long been plagued by post-harvest losses due to the challenges at the logistics, storage, preparation and consumption levels. Because of this, the country loses an estimated 36 million tons of food every year.
The WWF Pakistan team has initiated a collaboration with the federal and provincial governments to conceptualise food waste and loss policies targeted at both national and local levels. The team is working with policymakers on stakeholder engagement and consultative workshops to better understand food loss and waste in the industry and provide appropriate policy recommendations. The resultant policies can then be implemented to train farmers on food loss protocols and climate smart agricultural practices, equip the hospitality industry with proper food waste management systems, and educate local communities and tourists through awareness campaigns.
Across our WWF network, we are developing regional strategies to connect the private sector with national governments in the hopes that Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 (a 50% reduction of food waste by 2030) can become adopted globally. These innovation projects and investments aim to accelerate progress and model solutions that can be scaled globally.
Food is something we all enjoy, and unfortunately, that means food loss and waste is something that we are likely contributing to - knowingly or not. Today, it is more important than ever to invest in the future of food and build more resilient food systems, starting with tackling food loss and waste. We can only do so together - by taking individual responsibility, and collaborating on an institutional level, to ensure food loss and waste is measured, reported and ultimately reduced.