Even before pandemic, a third of all food produced annually was lost or wasted
WASHINGTON, September 28, 2020—Investments that reduce food loss and waste can deliver big wins on two pressing issues of our time: food security and environmental sustainability, according to a new World Bank report. But the results are not automatic – countries need well-targeted solutions.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted domestic supply chains, causing some farmers to destroy unsold crops, about a third of all food produced annually was lost at the farming, transport and processing stages or wasted at the retail and consumer levels. A new World Bank report and four country case studies analyze why food loss and waste has been difficult for countries to manage and propose country-specific and even commodity-specific solutions.
“Strategies to reduce food loss and waste can deliver multiple benefits,” said Juergen Voegele, World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development. “Together with other policies and investments, these strategies can play a major part in helping countries improve the health of their people, economies and environment.”
By adopting the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, countries committed to help halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses, by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal 12.3). But progress has been patchy at best. Authors of Addressing Food Loss and Waste: A Global Problem with Local Solutions argue that trade-offs between food affordability, rural livelihoods, and sustainable use of natural resources can only be avoided if they are first identified and then addressed with clear policy priorities in mind.
When food is grown only to be discarded, precious natural resources are used and unnecessary pollution is generated. Greenhouse gas emissions arise from the process of growing food that is not consumed and from decomposing organic matter. Emissions related to food loss and waste account for an estimated 8% of total global emissions, making progress in this area a promising avenue for mitigating climate change.
Reducing food loss and waste can also improve food security. While keeping food prices artificially low to address food insecurity is a common approach by governments in low- and middle-income countries, this comes at a cost as low prices do not reflect the true environmental costs of producing food and create disincentives for conserving resources. Reducing food loss and waste can increase the supply of food and therefore make it more affordable for consumers without increasing production and further stressing natural resources.
“Policy priorities and the specific circumstances of each country should guide the focus on different stages of the supply chain,” said Geeta Sethi, Advisor, Agriculture and Food Global Practice, World Bank and main author of the study. “Countries need good data and analysis to choose the right policy instruments and make sound investments.”
Complementing the main study are four case studies that examine food loss and waste challenges and opportunities for Guatemala, Nigeria, Rwanda and Vietnam. Those diagnostics form the basis of targeted policy recommendations. For example:
- Improving weather and market information reaching farmers is one way to reduce food loss and waste in Rwanda, where farmers often overplant to hedge against risks and uncertainty, leading to crop losses at the moment of harvest.
- Improving food safety would allow Vietnam to produce more and better food from dwindling natural resources, reduce the health impact of unsafe food on its citizens, and increase its compliance with import-export standards so that food is less frequently rejected.
- In Guatemala, investments in storage systems at the farm or cooperative levels could greatly reduce losses and generate more sales from poor subsistence farmers and therefore higher incomes, making a dent on rural poverty and hunger.
- Addressing transportation constraints along a busy North-South corridor in Nigeria could greatly reduce food loss and waste, ensuring that more food reaches the burgeoning population in the South.
Addressing Food Loss and Waste: A Global Problem with Local Solutions and the four related country diagnostics were supported by The Rockefeller Foundation. They represent a collaborative effort involving multiple researchers and practitioners and draw on data and insights from Cornell University and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (which operates as WRAP), a group of experts working toward a sustainable, resource-efficient economy.
The World Bank Group, one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, is taking broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response. We are supporting public health interventions, working to ensure the flow of critical supplies and equipment, and helping the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs. We will be deploying up to $160 billion in financial support over 15 months to help more than 100 countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery. This includes $50 billion of new IDA resources through grants and highly concessional loans.