FAO report: 1.3 billion tons of food produced for human consumption lost or wasted each year

By Lacey Cochart

According to a new report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 222 million tons of food is wasted by industrialized countries each year—this nearly equivalent to sub-Saharan Africa’s 230 million tons of net food production per year. The report, Global Food Losses and Food Waste: Extent, Causes and Prevention, says that “because many smallholder farmers in developing countries live on the margins of food insecurity, a reduction of food losses could have an immediate and significant impact on their livelihoods.” And in the developing world, according to State of the World 2011 author Tristram Stuart, 150 million tons of grain is lost per year in low-income countries—six times the amount needed to meet the needs of all the hungry people in the developing world.

According to a new FAO report on food waste, the highest percentage of food loss occurs in the post harvest stage in many developing countries. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Although the report states food losses are high in both industrialized and developing countries, it distinguishes between the two groups, stating that “food losses in industrialized countries are as high as in developing countries, but in developing countries more than 40 percent of food losses occur at post harvest and processing levels, while in industrialized countries, more than 40 percent of food losses occur at retail and consumer levels.” And, according to FAO, “food losses represent a waste of resources used in production such as land, water, energy and inputs.” FAO also highlights that “producing food that will not be consumed leads to unnecessary CO2 emissions in addition to loss of economic value of the food produced.”

Food prices are dramatically higher this year, nearing record highs that occurred in 2007. The Trade and Markets Division of the FAO, published a Food Outlook Global Market Analysis for June, 2011, which states “over the past twelve months, the cost of the typical food basket around the world has risen 48 percent.” The report further states “the aggregate cost of imported foodstuffs at the world level could reach a record $1.29 trillion in 2011, some 21 percent more than 2010.”

Rising food costs and limited resources mean innovative solutions to food waste and loss are necessary to help farmers and consumers. In Madagascar, for example, the Village Community Granaries project has helped 27,000 small farmers store 80,000 tons of paddy rice, increasing output by 50 percent. The creation and development of marketing and channels for distribution are proposed tools for reducing waste in developing nations. The FAO report concludes “further research in this area is urgent, especially considering that food security is a major concern in large parts of the developing world.”

Do you have ideas for reducing food losses during processing and storage? Tell us in the comments.

Lacey Cochart is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To read more about ideas to reduce food loss and waste see: Nourishing the Planet TV: Beating the Heat to Reduce Post Harvest Waste, Nourishing the Planet in USA Today: In a world of abundance, food waste is a crime, What Works: Reducing Food Waste

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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