Innovation of the Week: Reducing Food Waste

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Making metal silos for grain storage

Making metal silos for grain storage (photo credit: FAO)

In some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 265 million people are hungry, more than a quarter of the food produced is going bad even before it can be eaten because of poor harvest or storage techniques, severe weather, or disease and pests. In the United States on the other hand, food is actually being thrown away by the billions of kilograms (and contributing to 12 percent of total waste), putting stress on already bursting landfills and contributing to the emission of greenhouse gases—in the U.S. landfills are one of the biggest sources of methane, accounting for 34% of all methane emissions.

To prevent the loss of crops after they are harvested in Africa and elsewhere, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is implementing education and technology providing projects. In Kenya , the FAO partnered with the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture to train farmers to take steps to reduce maize crop loss to mycotoxin, a devastating result of fungi growth.

And in Afghanistan, the FAO recently provided household metallic silos to roughly 18,000 households in order to improve post-harvest storage. Farmers use the silos to store cereal grains and legumes, protecting them from the weather and pests, and post-harvest losses dropped from between 15 and 20 percent to less than one or two percent.

Recognizing the need to protect harvest in Africa from weather, disease, pests, and poor storage quality, the African Ministerial Council on Science & Technology is promoting research to analyze and promote various technologies and techniques to prevent post harvest waste and improve food processing. And ECHO Farm, in the United States, where Danielle and I spent some time in August, collects innovations of all kinds to help farmers at all stages of cultivation, including after the harvest. Making these innovations accessible to farmers all over the world is ECHO’s mission and we were able to see a demonstration of a number of post-harvest loss prevention techniques that are both simple and affordable.

And progress in waste reduction is being made in the United States, as well. This year San Francisco became the first U.S. city to mandate that all households separate both recycling and compost from garbage. The Department of the Environment expects this single piece of legislation will result in a 90 percent decrease of household waste in local landfills.

Food collection organizations like City Harvest collect food from restaurants, grocery stores and cafeterias that would otherwise be thrown away and deliver it, free of charge, to local food providers for low income families and the homeless.

Minimizing greenhouse gas emissions is a central theme at the climate negotiations in Copenhagen this year as GHG concentrations reached a record high last year. With landfills producing large amounts of greenhouse gases, and as food prices continue to rise worldwide, the reduction of food waste is an inescapable necessity for people everywhere, from restaurant owners in New York City to maize farmers outside Nairobi, Kenya.

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