Food loss and waste impacts on climate and food security - GulfToday

Food loss and waste impacts on climate and food security

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Time to rethink our relationship to waste and land use

Representational image.

Food loss and waste (FLW) is both an environmental and economic problem, accounting for 8%-10% of greenhouse gas emissions and a global economic loss of $1 trillion, annually, according to a Mongabay-India report. Citing a new study which suggests that reducing FLW could lead to overconsumption, as food becomes more accessible and cheaper, resulting in fewer environmental and health benefits, the report says other experts state that an increase in FLW leads to nutrition insecurity, especially among women and marginalised communities.

According to an IndiaTimes report that cites the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, one-third of all food in India is wasted or gets spoilt before it is eaten. The report also cites the UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021, household food waste in India is estimated to be around 50 kg per person annually, or 68.76 million tonnes. These losses take place across the supply chain - during transit, storage, and marketing - as well as in homes, on dining tables and in kitchens. Due to the propensity to buy or prepare more food than can be consumed by families or visitors at social gatherings, a sizable amount of food typically goes uneaten and is thrown away. Another factor is the lack of refrigeration and cold-storage facilities.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) states that the estimated economic value of post-harvest losses in India was $15.19 billion in 2014. While this is an underestimation of overall food loss and waste in India, India ranks only 94th out of 107 countries on the 2020 Global Hunger Index. Any amount of food loss and waste is a wasted opportunity to increase food availability, improve income, easing pressure on land and water resources, and reducing greenhouse gases.

The study ‘Rebound effects could offset more than half of avoided food loss and waste’ was published in Nature Food. Reducing FLW could improve food security, but it may not necessarily lead to expected environmental benefits, according to researchers. Bringing down losses, by improving efficiencies, would also bring down food costs. Cheaper and more accessible food, in turn, could result in overconsumption, overriding environmental benefits such as lowering carbon emissions, according to the study, as reported by Mongabay-India. The study highlights the complexities of balancing food security with environmental impacts, even as other experts note that the gains from lowering food loss and wastage are more significant in certain parts of the world and for certain demographics.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of California, Irvine in the United States, looks into the potential rebound effect of reducing food loss and waste. In economic terms, the rebound effect refers to the improvements in efficiency that often lead to cost reductions which then provide opportunities to buy more of the improved products or services, as highlighted by the Mongabay-India report.

The Mongabay-India report also points out that globally, around 14% of food produced is lost between harvest and retail, while an estimated 17% of the total global food production is wasted. Food loss or wastage occurs either on the supply side, where it is damaged or spoiled before reaching consumers, or on the demand side where food is spoiled or thrown away by consumers or retailers. Food lost and wasted accounts for 38% of total energy usage in the global food system, according to the United Nations.

The report also cites a 2019 World Resources Institute estimate suggests that reducing food loss and waste by 25% globally would reduce the food calorie gap by 12%, the land-use gap by 27% and the greenhouse gas mitigation gap by 15%. Not addressing FLW leads to a global economic loss of around $1 trillion annually. This is a conservative estimate that does not take into account the economic burden of labour days lost due to poor health among employees.  In India, the cost of lost productivity, illness and death due to malnutrition is $10 to $28 billion. Another 2021 working paper by the World Resources Institute India says that there is very little data available on food loss and waste in India and is mostly limited to post-harvest loss ($18.5 billion). The data on food waste at the retail, household and service level is limited to a few perception studies. Climate change related disasters are also emerging as a source of food loss and waste which makes tackling it important not only from a climate mitigation point of view, but also for adaptation.

Related articles

Other Articles