Should we shift focus from production to managing food waste and loss?

An astounding one third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted between the farm and the fork. Just think about that for a moment: While nearly 800 million people—one in nine globally—are undernourished, more than a billion tons of food never make it to the table. These inefficiencies in our global food system have serious impacts for nutrition, health and the environment.

Food loss and waste is an urgent global crisis affecting all of us – people, planet, and profits – from the health and livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people to the bottom lines of the private sector. Furthermore, it is a moral issue.

The reality is worse especially in the developing countries who comprise of 98 percent of the world’s hungry people.

The issue of loss is experienced globally but the problem is most acute across Sub-Saharan Africa. Ironically, the continent has the capacity to not only feed itself; even with a growing population. The region also has the potential to become a net exporter of food -instead of an importer which is the case now.

Food loss and waste is an all-inclusive problem, eliminating it requires an all-inclusive solution that looks across the global food system to identify where the biggest losses occur and provide incentives for solving the problems at the root. Overcoming this challenge will require that all stakeholders play their role, from producers, consumers,manufacturers, environmentalists.

Sub-Saharan Africa needs both intensification of its agricultural system and better post-harvest management. This is the only way we can ensure that we manage to feed an additional two billion people with half expected to be from Africa by 2050.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) provide us with a framework on how to achieve economic growth that is at the same time socially inclusive and environmentally sound. This framework needs to be applied to our food systems to increase both sustainability and resilience.

Achieving the SDG number 2 goal of ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture can only be possible, if we shift the discussions from only producing more food to also managing the food that we already have.

Agricultural systems need to be intensified based on the best-available knowledge and best-practices as the yield gap is still significant. Such intensification would need to take into consideration both social and environmental aspects to be both sustainable and resilient.

In the past, funders and policymakers often focused on producing more—be it more energy to support development or more buildings to house growing populations. As the impacts of climate change increase, many of us are instead seeking ways to do more with what we already have.

It is commendable that the Sustainable Development Goals not only address ending hunger but have also looked at reducing Food Loss. If the global community is serious about achieving a hunger-free world, we need to prioritize finding solutions to food loss along the entire agricultural value chain. We will need to put more concerted effort to reduce food losses.

Post-harvest management needs to be included in the development agenda. The private sector (both global and local) has an important role to play; their business model needs to be more inclusive to allow for smallholder farmer sourcing.

My hope with the just concluded United Nations Governing Council is that leaders will emphasize more on the importance of food waste and Loss to promote a food secure world.

When food losses are minimized, the world’s 500 million small farms will produce enough excess yields to become sustainable businesses. And when that happens, we won’t just eliminate extreme hunger by 2030 – we will be on our way to eliminating extreme poverty as well.