Progress report on SDG Target 12.3 on food loss and waste
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has the largest share of immediate postharvest losses at 39%, followed by south and south-east Asian regions at 32%.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) says approximately one-third of all food produced in the world is never consumed. Measured by weight, that is about 1.3 billion tonnes of food that is lost or wasted every year. From the production stage at the farm to final consumption, food is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain.
The magnitude of food loss and waste (FLW) has significant adverse impacts. On the one hand, FLW is responsible for $940 billion in economic losses; on the other hand, it generates 8 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Meanwhile, amid such colossal impacts, about 800 million people still suffer from hunger. To reduce these human, economic, and environmental costs arising from inefficient use of resources, Goal 12 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aims to promote responsible consumption and production patterns. Target 12.3 focuses on halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses, by 2030.
Following the adoption of the SGDs last year, various countries, companies and international organisations have been ramping up efforts towards addressing food loss and waste. A new report was released last month, which assesses global actions aimed at reducing FLW. The report, SDG Target 12.3 on Food Loss and Waste: 2016 Progress Report, was published by Champions 12.3, a coalition of leaders from government, business and civil society around the world who are dedicated to mobilising action, and accelerating progress toward achieving SDG Target 12.3.
Regional trends in food loss and waste
According to the report, the North America and Oceania regions have the highest share of available food that is lost or wasted (at 42 per cent). The region with the least share of FLW is Latin America (15 per cent), while the figure for sub-Saharan Africa is 23 per cent. The report also shows that different regions of the world account for varying degrees of food loss and waste along the food supply chain. Food losses at the point of harvesting on the farm, as well as at the handling, transporting, storage, processing and packaging stages are more prevalent in developing regions. SubSaharan Africa (SSA) has the largest share of immediate post-harvest losses at 39%, followed by south and south-east Asian regions at 32%. In SSA, post-harvest losses are estimated at $4 billion per year. All this has implication for the ability of farmers to earn decent incomes on their agricultural produce. Food wastage (food sorted out due to quality, food purchased or cooked but not eaten and is discarded or left to spoil) – as opposed to food losses (food that gets spilled or spoilt before it reaches the markets) – is more prevalent in developed regions. North America has the highest share of food waste at the point of consumption (61%). As a result, Champions 12.3 is advocating for efficiency in the global food system. The group's report recommends that nations, cities and businesses in the food supply chain need to move quickly to set targets, measure progress and take action to reduce food loss and waste.
Notable progress has been achieved over the last one year. In June, the Washington DC-based World Resources Institute, which is also associated with Champions 12.3, launched The Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard (or FLW Standard) as a global standard to provide guidance for quantifying and reporting the weight of food and associated inedible items removed along the food supply chain. This standard is expected to enable countries, cities, companies, and other entities to develop inventories of how much FLW is generated and where it goes. As recommended by the Champions 12.3 report, measurement of FLW is necessary to be able to manage the phenomenon.
Also, the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a global network of over 400 retailers, manufacturers, service providers and other stakeholders, passed a “Food Waste Resolution” last year. CGF announced a commitment to halving food waste within the organisation's individual retail and manufacturing operations by 2025 against a 2016 baseline. Companies such as Unilever and Nestlé are measuring their food loss and waste. Tesco, the British multinational grocery company has been conducting and reporting annually its FLW inventory since 2013.
One notable step by Africa in the direction of achieving SDG Target 12.3 is the adoption of the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods. African Union Heads of State and Government had adopted the Malabo Declaration in 2014, calling on African countries to “halve the current levels of post-harvest losses by the year 2025.”
Another positive development in Africa with regard to reduction of food loss and waste is the recent launch of YieldWise by the Rockefeller Foundation. The $130million initiative is tackling food loss and waste in the production of fruits, vegetables and staple crops in Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania. YieldWise is providing training for farmers, helping to create the tools for measuring and tracking supply chain losses, and also facilitating buyer agreements between farmer groups and multinational companies. The Rockefeller Foundation, through the initiative, is working with companies like Dangote Farms to build processing industries. The foundation is also partnering with stakeholders to provide storage facilities.
Most of the food losses that occur in SSA are due to improper harvesting practices, lack of storage facilities and poor road infrastructure. The International Fertiliser Development Center (IFDC), a non-government organisation (NGO) seeking to improve food security, recently launched the Ambient Ware Potato Store in Kenya. The new storage facility is touted to eliminate up to 40 per cent loss in poor post-harvest handling of potatoes. With the facility, farmers can keep their potatoes while waiting to sell them at favourable prices.
Increasing food security
Food insecurity is most prevalent in SSA with one-quarter of the region's adult population facing severe food insecurity. Therefore, reducing food loss and waste will increase food security in the region. Governments and companies involved in the food supply chain in Africa need to collaborate to set targets on FLW at national and sub-national levels, including cities. Investment in food loss and waste reduction technologies, better infrastructure to improve storage, processing, and transportation is critical.
The Champions 12.3 report is expected to provide greater clarity about the scope of SDG Target 12.3 and guide stakeholders in setting targets for reduction of food loss and waste; quantifying and reporting on FLW and monitoring progress over time; and scaling up policies, investment and initiatives that reduce FLW.
Redesigning the food value chain
For the developed regions where most food waste occurs at the consumption stage of the food supply chain, actions must be taken to efficiently allocate surplus food. To maintain their high quality standards, retailers discard fruits or vegetables that have blemishes. However, given the need to reduce food wastage, some fruits and vegetables with blemishes are now being rebranded and sold in supermarkets in some developed countries.
European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, who is a member of the coalition said, “To fight food waste, we need to redesign our food value chain, eliminating waste at each stage and making any surplus food readily available to those in need." In March, Tesco rolled out its “Community Food Connection” with FareShare FoodCloud – a solution designed to connect charities and community groups to surplus food at local stores. In partnership with FareShare, Tesco links unsold but still safe-to-eat food items with local food charities, thereby reducing the amount of food that goes to waste. A number of restaurants are innovating by using apps to sell leftovers at discounted prices.
If organisations can cut waste in other critical business processes, it is important to cut food wastage as well. Most definitely less people will go hungry. Another strategy being advocated to reduce food loss and waste is to ensure what is not needed is not produced. This strategy will require less use of natural resources, and the impact on climate change will reduce.
A dump site for wasted food items