The overlooked case for food losses and waste

News: Food loss and waste although a major contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions does not get the attention it should. Even major climate negotiations like CoP 26 have failed to discuss it with the required urgency. 

This food sector problem needs to be measured and mitigated as part of the country’s fight against climate change.

How Food loss and waste contributes to the climate change? 

Greenhouse gas emissions take place in the production, storage, transport, processing, packaging, distribution and consumption of the food produced; the wastage of this food leads to additional emissions if it ends up in a landfill.

Moreover, the agriculture sector is the largest user of available freshwater, which is already a scarce resource in countries like India.

Impact: This is doubly harmful as it adds to global warming and leads to loss of the precious resources that have gone into production of this huge amount of food.  

Nearly 30% of the world’s agricultural land is currently being used to produce food that is not going to reach our plates. 

IPCC’s sixth Assessment Report (AR6) has recently pointed out that human induced global warming may contribute to increased agricultural droughts that may affect food production. 

What is the way forward? 

As the UN Food Systems Summit points out, prevention of food loss will improve the overall health of people and the natural ecosystem. Following steps can be taken: 

Need to measure food loss and waste at the post-harvest and at consumption level: While around 14% of the food is lost between harvest and retail points of sale (also known as post-harvest losses), 17 % is wasted at the level of households, retail outlets, restaurants and other food services worldwide. India needs an understanding of the exact extent of food losses and waste, and its social, economic and environmental impact.

Benefits of relevant data: Evidence-based, coordinated policy action requires relevant data. It also helps to understand the true level of the problem. Good data would aid efforts to increase public awareness of food losses and waste at all levels. Once we have the requisite data, we can set targets for reduction and take specific actions focused on critical loss points and geographical hotspots.

Identifying critical loss points: Focus should be on identifying ‘critical loss points’ (stages that have the most loss/waste) in a food supply chain and also geographical hotspots for loss/waste in India. 

Source: This post is based on the article “The overlooked case for food losses and waste” published in Livemint on 19th Dec 2021. 

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