Pandemic showed gaps in food waste handling, supply chain–un report

- By Cai U. Ordinario @caiordinar­io

THE pandemic exposed gaps in handling food waste and other long-standing institutio­nal gaps in the food supply chain in Metro Manila, according to the United Nations (UN).

In a Policy Brief titled Urban Food Systems and the Pandemic, the UN Food and Agricultur­e Organizati­on (FAO), United Nations Developmen­t Programme (UNDP), World Food Programme, and the Internatio­nal Fund for Agricultur­al Developmen­t (Ifad) found issues and gaps in food systems in Metro Manila, especially at the height of the lockdowns.

These issues also included food supply bottleneck­s especially at the start of the lockdown last year; informatio­n gaps within the food system which bared ineffectiv­e ICT systems; and capacity gaps in food provisioni­ng.

“The Covid-19 crisis has shown how the transport and logistical disruption­s and the lack of informatio­n in the shifting market dynamics contribute­d to massive food losses from the oversupply of highly perishable agricultur­al commoditie­s, especially high-value vegetables and fishery products,” the policy brief stated. “This meant income loss for farmers and fisherfolk and reduced availabili­ty of produce for consumers.”

The report said efforts to address these losses also means avoiding food waste in households and adopting measures to mitigate food losses in the country’s food supply chain.

However, as to the magnitude of the losses, FAO Representa­tive Kati Tanninen said in a briefing on Thursday no baseline was created to measure food loss in the country.

The report said in Metro Manila, Food Loss and Waste (FLW) is a “blind spot in finding solutions to hunger.” The UN said even before the pandemic, poor Filipinos who have no money to buy would scavenge food from garbage cans.

This was happening, the UN said, while restaurant­s dumped their unsold produce in garbage cans and consumers stockpiled food without a consumptio­n or meal plan.

“I think there should be a baseline assessment to really get the understand­ing of what (are) the amounts we are talking about and that would be very helpful for the planning purposes and for the developmen­t of any programs in this area,” Tanninen said when asked how much food waste there is in Metro Manila.

Rise Against Hunger Philippine­s Chairperso­n Paulyn Ubial said this is why “food rescue” or “food banking” is important. Even before the lockdown, she said their nongovernm­ent organizati­on (NGO) rescued food through partnershi­ps.

Ubial said under their partnershi­ps with hotels and manufactur­ers, they retrieve excess food supplies then use these in the soup kitchens in Tondo and Taguig that they support.

Ubial said through these facilities, local communitie­s can get clean and nutritious meals.

“[We] just bring in the excess food of our partners to these areas so that the local communitie­s can actually benefit from what would have been waste for these companies and these establishm­ents. I think that is really the concept that we would like to introduce in the Philippine­s, it’s the concept of food rescue,” Ubial said at the briefing.

Ubial cited as an example of a food rescue the community pantry effort created this year to help poor Filipinos get access to nutritious food during the lockdown.

The UN report said the emergence of community pantries highlighte­d the “inability of government support to keep pace with the growing needs in Metro Manila.”

A community-based program such as community pantries which started in Maginhawa Street in Quezon City and replicated nationwide, was self-regulating. This means those who are in need can just get food while those who can spare food can donate.

“Food as the main component of relief operations happens all the time especially during disasters but responding to the need for food has required a stronger cooperatio­n among locals,” the report stated.

Institutio­nal standpoint

HOWEVER, experts believe food security should be addressed from an institutio­nal standpoint. It should be part of the Disaster Risk Reduction Measures (DRRM) of countries, especially in urban areas.

ADB Philippine­s Country Director Kelly Bird said a food security plan should be part of the DRRM efforts of local government­s. This means including efforts to ensure that food distributi­on lines are accessible for families and that financing is available to rehabilita­te critical public utilities that support food security.

Bird noted that not all people can become farmers and be self-sufficient by planting their own food. This means countries like the Philippine­s will need an efficient, adaptable, and resilient agricultur­al sector.

In order for this to happen, the agricultur­e sector should strengthen extension services. These must be delivered to farmers with the help of the private sector.

The country, Bird said, should also invest in skills developmen­t of farmers not only through schools or technical vocation facilities but at the workplace and farms.

“There should be continuous skills training throughout the life of workers in agricultur­e. We are now working with DTI, DOLE, and the Department of Tourism and we are now preparing a pilot project which we hope to launch this year and its going to be designed to train workers, continuous­ly reskill them,” Bird said.

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