Reducing Waste and Improving Global Food Security

Reducing Waste and Improving Global Food Security

The average consumer in a developing country wastes 24 pounds of food. In comparison, the average western consumer wastes about 220 pounds. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
The average consumer in a developing country wastes 24 pounds of food. In comparison, the average western consumer wastes about 220 pounds. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

As food prices soar, one culprit might be our relationship with the landfill.

About one billion tons of food is wasted yearly, according to the UNFAO. The average consumer in a developing country wastes 24 pounds of food. In comparison, the average western consumer wastes about 220 pounds.

Last year, food prices reached the highest levels globally since the UN’s FAO indexing began in 1990. This year, food prices could rise another 20 percent. And when food prices rise, food insecurity follows, impacting rich and poor countries alike.

The recent increase in food prices can be explained by several factors: growing energy demands, population pressures, and a series of particularly severe weather events, according to the New York Times. In 2010, crops perished from wildfires in Russia, floods in Pakistan, cyclones in Australia, and severe droughts in Latin America. But despite these natural explanations, one of the largest burdens to addressing food insecurity is waste, — 30-50 percent of food produced is wasted globally.

But reasons for wasting food differ greatly across the world. Rich countries waste due to habit. Poor countries waste due to inadequate storage, according to a special report by The Economist.

Without proper equipment to store food, farming regions in poor countries waste the most -- involuntarily. Silos, transportation vehicles, and refrigerators are all essential for storing crops, along with preventing dairy and vegetables from spoiling. But these materials are expensive. Kanayo Nwanze, head of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, tells the Economist that in poor countries, losses from wasted food could be cut in half. But this requires large investment in agricultural infrastructure.

In contrast, waste from wealthier countries can be explained by habit. In the U.S., food insecurity is not an apparent problem with food being so affordable and available. Average Americans spend 10 percent of their income on food. In poor countries, it's closer to 70 percent. Poor countries conserve because they have to; rich countries waste because they can.

The solution: poor countries need heavy investment and rich countries need behavioral change. Laurie Garrett, CFR’s Senior Fellow for Global Health, says food production in the developing world needs dramatic improvement and greater efficiency in “every aspect of farming, harvesting, delivery, and distribution." As for rich countries, a greater appreciation of the food crisis might be necessary.

We don't have to waste. Unless poor countries receive greater investment and rich countries avoid being liberal with the landfill, food prices are unlikely to drop.

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