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EDITORIAL: In a world where millions go hungry every day, the staggering amount of food wasted by households and businesses worldwide not only perpetuates the brutal cycle of hunger but also represents glaring inefficiencies in global food systems, which are largely unsustainable and inequitable.

This was underscored in some detail in the UN’s Food Waste Index Report published on March 27, which has thrown up some confounding revelations.

According to the report, an astonishing one billion meals were discarded every day in 2022, which in monetary terms amounts to an enormous 1 trillion dollars’ worth of food. At a time when around 783 million people are going hungry worldwide and the hunger epidemic has already been compounded by the impacts of climate change, economic shocks, the Covid pandemic, and wars in Ukraine and Gaza, the level of food waste is nothing short of a global tragedy. It has hugely exacerbated the dire circumstances faced by the most vulnerable populations, deepening human suffering on a global scale.

Quite disturbingly, the report highlights that the figure of a billion meals going to waste daily was actually a “very conservative estimate”, with the real number potentially being much higher. Even this conservative figure would be enough to feed all the people in the world that are currently hungry, indicating the potential there is for comprehensively addressing global hunger if the inefficiencies plaguing food systems are effectively addressed.

Here it would be pertinent to note the difference between food wastage and food loss, with the former concentrated more in higher-income countries while the latter can be observed largely in poorer nations. Food loss frequently occurs due to supply chain issues between production and when products reach the point of sale. Food wastage, on the other hand, occurs between the point of sale and final consumption, and tends to mainly transpire at the household level in rich countries.

Given the catastrophic consequences for millions of people, food wastage, therefore, amounts to nothing short of a moral failure, requiring urgent efforts to implement policies that incentivize food recovery and redistribution, and investment in programmes that raise public awareness about the costs of food waste.

Consumers the world over, and especially in richer countries, need to make conscious choices to reduce waste at home by carefully planning meals, shopping mindfully, and composting food scraps.

When it comes to the issue of food loss, investments in infrastructure that improve food storage and transportation, especially in poorer countries like ours, and the adoption of sustainable practices throughout the supply chain that prioritise energy-efficient production methods, are a must.

Food waste also has grave implications for the environment. A leading cause of habitat loss is the use of natural ecosystems for agricultural purposes. Given this, the fact that food waste takes up the equivalent of nearly 30 percent of the world’s farming land only exacerbates the environmental toll.

In addition, when food ends up in landfills, it decomposes anaerobically, releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Moreover, the production of wasted food entails the use of valuable resources such as water, fertilisers and energy, all of which generate carbon emissions.

All of this combined has resulted in a situation where food waste generates eight to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. To put this into perspective, if it were a country, food wastage would rank third after China and the US as a leading carbon emitter.

Food waste is clearly a complex issue with far-reaching consequences for economies, food security and the environment. There is a need to recognise the interconnected nature of the challenge and take decisive action to reduce food waste so that global food systems become more resilient and sustainable, benefiting both people and the planet.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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