Q&A with Geeta Sethi, advisor and global lead for food systems and Simmy Jain, senior climate and finance specialist
Nearly 700 million people worldwide are undernourished, but it’s not because the world doesn’t produce enough food for everyone. In fact, there is enough food grown to feed an additional 2 billion people per year. The problem is that the food is either lost or wasted.
Some food never makes it to market or to consumers due to lack of transportation and especially refrigeration. This is especially true in lower-income countries. In higher-income countries the problem is more one of waste, which comes in many forms–from people not eating what they have purchased or put on their plates, to stores getting rid of products that are near their expiry date or refusing to stock “ugly” or imperfect produce.
There are many organizations working to change this situation, including the World Bank, with a short-term goal of reducing waste by one third.
The Bank’s Geeta Sethi, advisor and global lead for food systems and Simmy Jain, senior climate and finance specialist, recently sat down to answer some questions on the issue.
Q. How has the issue of food loss and waste (FLW) changed with the advent of COVID-19?
A. The COVID-19 pandemic has had severe economic and health impacts on people around the world and exposed the vulnerabilities of food supply chains. In many countries, consumers have experienced local shortages and price hikes, while farmers have been stuck with food that they can’t sell. Underlying these symptoms of a broken food system were restrictions on movement and business closures, which led to an upsurge in food loss and waste. Crucially, estimates suggest that the pandemic may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020. These challenges have brought food loss and waste to the fore for policymakers and consumers alike.
Q. How is FLW a key environmental issue?
A. Notwithstanding the extraordinary success during the past century in making food more accessible, affordable and safe, food systems have contributed to unsustainable land use practices, depletion of fresh water, pollution from chemicals, disruption of nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, biodiversity loss, and climate change. Reducing food loss and waste is key to making food systems significantly more sustainable, maximizing output from land and natural resources already under production.