By Sharon Atieno

Despite 690 million people being hungry today and three billion not being able to afford a healthy diet, food continues to be lost and wasted.

Food loss occurs from farm up to and excluding retail, whilst food waste occurs at retail, food service and household level; with causes ranging from poor handling, inadequate transport or storage, lack of cold chain capacity, extreme weather conditions to cosmetic standards, and a lack of planning and cooking skills among consumers.

At the global event marking the first international Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste on 29th September, hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), innovation, technologies and behavior change were identified as crucial solutions to food loss and waste.

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu, urged for stronger partnerships, more public and private investments in training for smallholder farmers as well as technology and innovation to step up the fight against food loss and waste.

“Innovative postharvest treatment, digital agriculture and food systems and re-modelling market channels offer huge potential to tackle the challenges of food loss and waste. We have just built a partnership with IBM, Microsoft and the Vatican to empower Artificial Intelligence in all these areas,” added Qu.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, encouraged governments to make food loss and waste part of national climate strategies.

“Only 11 countries have so far included food loss in their Nationally Determined Contributions. None of them included food waste. By including food loss and waste and sustainable diets in revised climate plans, policymakers can improve their mitigation and adaptation from food systems by as much as 25 percent,” said Andersen.

Calling food loss and waste “an ethical outrage” given that so many people go hungry, António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, in a message sent in support of the Day, urged everyone to play their part in tackling this issue – from countries setting a reduction target and measuring their food loss and waste and policy action in this area being included in climate plans under the Paris Agreement to businesses taking a similar approach and individuals shopping carefully, storing food correctly, and using leftovers.

Other solutions to stem out food loss and waste include: good data to know where in the value chain the major hot spots of food loss and waste are; applying innovation – for example, e-commerce platforms for marketing or retractable mobile food processing systems; government incentives to bolster private sector food loss and waste action and collaboration across supply chains; investments in training, technology and innovation, including for small-scale producers; better food packaging and relaxing on regulations and standards on aesthetic requirements for fruit and vegetables; behaviours that value and make the most of food at home; redistributing safe surplus food to those in need through food banks; facilitating farmer’s access to consumers and shorter value chains through farmers markets and rural urban linkages; and investing more to strengthen infrastructure and logistics, including sustainable cold chains and cooling technologies.

Each year about 14 percent of the world’s food is lost before even reaching the market. Food loss is valued at $400 billion annually – about the GDP of Austria. Movement and transport restrictions during the pandemic, have however increased the challenge.