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Reduce food loss or risk drop in food security: UN agencies

At the global event marking the first International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and their partners urged everyone to do more to reduce food loss and waste or risk an even greater drop in food security and natural resources.

They said that around 690 million people today are hungry and three billion cannot afford a healthy diet.

The first International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste was observed on Tuesday.

According to the UN agencies, “Hunger has been on the rise for the past five years, and the Covid-19 pandemic is threatening the food and nutrition security of up to an additional 132 million of people.

“On top of that, we are faced with an ecosystem decline and the consequences of climate change. Yet, food continues to be lost and wasted.

“This year we have witnessed an increase in food loss and waste as a result of movement and transport restrictions due to the pandemic,” the agencies said.

Covid-19 aside, however, each year about 14 per cent of the world’s food is lost before even reaching the market. Food loss is valued at $400 billion annually—about the GDP of Austria. New estimates for the food waste are coming out early 2021.

When it comes to the environmental impact, food loss and waste generate eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, said the UN agencies.

Food loss occurs from farm up to and excluding retail, whilst food waste occurs at retail, food service and household level. Causes range from poor handling, inadequate transport or storage, lack of cold chain capacity, extreme weather conditions to cosmetic standards, and a lack of planning and cooking skills among consumers.

Simply put, reducing food lost or wasted means more food for all, less greenhouse gas emissions, less pressure on the environment, and increased productivity and economic growth. Innovation, technologies and behavioural change—key to reducing food loss and waste, said the agencies.

“Food loss and waste is a big challenge of our time,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, urging for stronger partnerships, more public and private investments in training for smallholder farmers, technology and innovation to step up the fight against food loss and waste as “our planet is a small boat in the universe”.

“Innovative post-harvest treatment, digital agriculture and food systems and re-modelling market channels offer huge potential to tackle the challenges of food loss and waste. We have just built a partnership with IBM, Microsoft and the Vatican to empower artificial intelligence in all these areas,” added Qu.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen encouraged governments to make food loss and waste part of national climate strategies.

“Only 11 countries have so far included food loss in their Nationally Determined Contributions. None of them included food waste. By including food loss and waste and sustainable diets in revised climate plans, policymakers can improve their mitigation and adaptation from food systems by as much as 25 per cent,” said Andersen.

Calling food loss and waste “an ethical outrage” given that so many people go hungry, Antanio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, in a message sent, urged everyone to play their part in tackling this issue—from countries setting a reduction target and measuring their food loss and waste and policy action in this area being included in climate plans under the Paris Agreement to businesses taking a similar approach and individuals shopping carefully, storing food correctly, and using leftovers.