How to reduce food loss and waste
According to a study conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on Global Food Losses and Food Waste, one-third of the food produced globally for human consumption, corresponding to about 1.3 billion tonnes, is lost or wasted each year along the Food Supply Chain (FSC). Each stage of the FSC consists of several operations, both agricultural and industrial, within which different types of losses and waste occur. Understanding the causes and identifying why food is lost and wasted is a key step in improving resource efficiency in the long term. Losses along the FSC generally depend on socioeconomic, biological and/or microbiological, chemical or biochemical, mechanical and/or environmental factors.
In commemorating the third annual International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste with the theme, "Stop food loss and waste. For the people. For the planet.’’ Small-scale farmers under the umbrella of ESAFF Uganda join their voices with the rest of the world, calling for a clear call to action for public and private entities from across the food system and consumers to work together to cut food loss and waste to enhance the efficient use of natural resources, mitigate climate change, and support food security and nutrition.
Throughout the entire global supply chain, there is food loss and waste. Depending on the crop production choices and patterns, infrastructure, marketing and distribution channels, consumer purchasing and food use habits, different countries experience food loss from harvest to consumption. In Uganda, food loss and wastage hit different for smallholder farmers; nutritious food is always lost mainly due to poor post-harvest handling practices and through the absence of adequate and appropriate food infrastructure in harvest and post-harvest systems. For example, during the preparation stages (poor drying leading to unbalanced moisture content), storage, transportation and processing. These losses decrease the amount of food available in the communities and markets hence increasing food prices. Given the enormity of food losses, making profitable investments in reducing losses may be one way to bring down food prices. Producing food requires a lot of agricultural production resources and inputs; these are wasted when food is lost.
Storage, which involves keeping products safe from the time they are produced until they are consumed, is a crucial marketing function. This guarantees a steady flow of products on the market. However, after the harvesting process, especially in terms of storage and transportation, we as small-scale farmers encounter difficulties. Poor quality, pothole-filled rural roads make it difficult to get produce to markets on time. This affects not only us, the producers but also the consumers. Selling off our produce at lower prices is one of the losses we record. Narrates Obuoja Albert, Farmer Field School Facilitator, Golimori FFS, Adjumani district.
FAO estimates that 30-40 percent of total production can be lost before it reaches the market due to problems ranging from improper use of inputs to lack of proper post-harvest resources like storage, processing and transportation facilities. These losses can be as high as 40-50 percent for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 30 percent for cereals and fish, and 20 percent for oilseeds.
Furthermore, around the world, it is estimated that 3.1 billion people lack access to a healthy diet while 828 million people go hungry. By 2050, the world's population is projected to reach nine billion people, making it crucial to reduce food loss and waste in order to meet the demand. Reducing food loss and waste is an important target of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as a means to achieve other SDGs targets, particularly those relating to food security, nutrition and environmental sustainability. Thus the need to transition to sustainable food systems that enhance the efficient use of natural resources, lessen planetary impacts and ensure food and nutrition security should be prioritised.
Sustainable food systems such as the adoption of agroecology increase livelihood resilience and provide climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions. The agroecological systems are also capable of addressing societal disturbances like pandemics, and instability of markets through re-localizing food systems and shortening value chains, resulting in greater resilience and lower food loss and waste. Therefore, there is a need to upscale agroecology among small-holder farmers since it aims at increasing yields while reducing environmental impacts since it is climate resilient, environmentally and health-friendly.
What should be done?
In light of the above, ensuring food and nutrition insecurity as well as improving the economic well-being of small-scale farmers and consumers hinges on reducing food losses and waste can be done through;
Commit to transforming agri-food systems in favour of agroecological farming practices since they promote healthy diets, prevent natural resource degradation and support the achievement of climate change goals.
There is a need to extend agriculture extension services to small-scale farmers through training on post-harvest handling in order to build their skills in handling, packaging and storage to mitigate the losses along the food supply chain. These should be equipped with sufficient and affordable post-harvest storage facilities as well as ease access to the market.
Government needs to strengthen the enforcement of standards and increase the capacity to test foods. The Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) could make use of extension workers to monitor farmers during drying and storage practices. In addition, UNBS could offer a certificate of meeting standards to village-based aggregators since these can easily monitor Post Harvest Handling (PHH) practices of farmers and can control the supply of quality produce to the market.
Government should also engage in interdisciplinary research to understand the causes and drivers of food loss and waste in the country.
Government should adhere to its commitment to transform food systems, including food loss and waste targets, as part of the nationally determined contributions and measure food waste across the supply chain and at household levels.
Adopt and encourage the quick spread of cooperative initiatives to decrease food loss and waste. These initiatives foster an atmosphere that promotes innovative action, effective teamwork, and the dissemination of best practices.
Citizens should further be sensitized to integrated strategies that develop sustainable food systems, such as the use of local storage facilities, mobile food processing systems, and digitalized marketing platforms, among others. This will minimize the challenges along the food supply chain that escalate food loss and waste, especially in rural farming communities.