World Food day: The food we waste is enough to feed the hungry among us

The World Food Day is one of the most important events on the United Nations (UN) calendar and was established by the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Member Countries at the Organization’s 20th General Conference in November 1979.

Each year, events aimed at spreading global hunger awareness are held in 150 countries. People from around the world come together to declare their commitment to eradicating worldwide hunger and pledge their support to ensure food security for all. Unfortunately, the number of hungry people is still on the increase, especially in Africa.

The continuous campaigns against poverty, the yearly commemoration of 16 October and the measures taken to ensure global food security and improved nutrition have proven not to be enough, as a report by FAO show that 821 million people were still hungry in 2017. Meaning that one in every nine people are hungry.

In the past 3 years, the number of people who suffer from hunger has been growing and recently it has returned to levels from a decade ago. According to the FAO’s report, the number of people in the world affected by undernourishment or chronic food deprivation is now estimated to have increased from around 804 million in 2016 to nearly 821 million in 2017.

As the number of hungry people increases, the amount of food waste also increases. Every year, 1.3 billion tonnes, about one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption gets lost or wasted. Food losses and waste amount to roughly $680 billion in industrialized countries and $310 billion in developing countries.

Forty percent of the food in the United States is never eaten, amounting to $165 billion a year in waste. Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of South Sudan population is extremely hungry, according to the Integrated Food Security Classification data. Of the 12.23 million South Sudanese population, more than 6.1 million people are faced with a crisis, emergency or catastrophic levels of food insecurity.

Should the food wasted in the United States alone be distributed to South Sudanese, each person would have approximately $13,500 extra cash to feed. This money can be used to buy one litre of milk, a loaf of fresh white 500 gram bread, one kilogram (1kg) of white rice, 12 eggs, 1kg of boneless chicken breasts, 1kg of ground beef, 1kg of apples, 1kg of banana, 1kg of oranges, 1kg of tomato, 1 kg of potato, 1kg of onions, 1 lettuce head and 1.5 litre of bottle water all for the cost of $12.5. Assuming this is consumed daily, a South Sudanese would spend at least $4,563 yearly on basic food and would be left with $8,937 for other things.

This is just for South Sudan, which is not the country with the highest number of hungry people on the Global Hunger Index. In the 2018 Global Hunger Index, Central African Republic ranks 119th out of 119 qualifying countries.

Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes). African nations have the highest rates of hungry people but that has not stopped them from wasting food rather than channeling same to the fight against hunger. Per capita waste by consumers in sub-Saharan Africa is between 6kg to 11 kg yearly.

Fruits and vegetables, roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of food. The global quantitative food losses and waste per year show that roughly, 40-50 percent for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 35 percent for fish, 30 percent for cereals and 20 percent for oilseeds, meat and dairy products are wasted yearly.

Stating the problem without finding solutions

In Africa, 40 percent of food are wasted just after harvesting and during processing. Majority of food waste and losses occur at early stages of the food chain and can be traced back to financial, managerial and technical constraints in harvesting techniques as well as storage and cooling facilities. Meaning that the food meant to feed almost a country is wasted before even getting to the market.

Out of the 31 million tons of food available in South Africa each year, one third (about 10 million tonnes of food) is wasted in some form or another across the food supply chain.

To curb this menace, the supply chain can be strengthened through the direct support of farmers and investments in infrastructure as well as an expansion of the food and packaging industry. This could help to reduce food wastage.

To achieve Zero Hunger, which is the global goal for the World Food Day, the major issues should first be tackled if not, today will be yet another day to talk about hunger with no active steps taking to eventually curb hunger come 2030, the anticipated year to finally eliminate global hunger.