What Works: Reducing Food Waste

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By Janeen Madan

This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question, and every week you can join the conversation!

Roughly 40 percent of the food produced globally spoils before it even reaches the table. With a large share of the human population undernourished, we simply cannot afford for food to go to waste.

Practical Action’s zeer pots, which help preserve vegetables, are one among many innovative efforts helping to reduce food waste worldwide. (Photo credit: Practical Action)

In sub-Saharan Africa, where over 265 million people are hungry, more than a quarter of the food produced rots due to poor harvest or storage techniques, post-harvest losses caused by severe weather, or disease and pests. In the United States 45 billion kilograms (100 billion pounds) of food are literally thrown away each year. This puts pressure on bursting landfills, which contribute to climate change through the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is arming farmers with the information and technology to combat these challenges. In Kenya, the FAO is partnering with the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture to train farmers in ways to reduce loss of their corn crops to mycotoxin, a devastating result of fungi growth. And in Afghanistan, the FAO recently provided metallic silos to some 18,000 households. This improves storage of cereal grains and legumes, protecting them from harsh weather and pests. The silos have helped reduce losses 15-20 percent to less than 1-2 percent.

In West Africa cowpeas are an important protein staple, but due to pests, the harvests often do not leave farmers’ fields. The Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage (PICS) project’s hermetically sealed bags, which prevent oxygen and pests from contaminating cowpeas, are benefiting farmers across Niger. The PICS project aims to reach some 28,000 villages in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo this year.

In Sudan, where farmers produce okra, carrots, and tomatoes, the inability to store and preserve their crops in the stifling heat, puts them at risk of hunger. Practical Action – a nonprofit that improves access to basic services – provides a simple solution to beat the heat in the form of homemade clay refrigerators. Zeer pots, made out of mud, clay, water and sand, keep produce cool, preserving vegetables, like tomatoes, carrots, and okra for up to 20 days (see also Beating the Heat to Reduce Post-Harvest Waste).

And initiatives in cities across the United States are also making significant progress in reducing waste. In 2010, San Francisco became the first city to pass legislation requiring all households to separate both recycling and compost from garbage. The city’s Department of the Environment expects a 90 percent decrease of household waste in local landfills. And in New York City, City Harvest, the world’s first food rescue organization, collects some 28 million pounds of food each year that would otherwise go to waste, providing groceries and meals for over 300,000 hungry residents.

And these are just the beginning. Do you know of any other innovative projects that are working to reduce food waste?

Tell Nourishing the Planet what works and have your answers featured on the blog. Email Dnierenberg@Worldwatch.org or tweet your response to @WorldWatchAg.

To read more about ‘What Works,’ see: What Works: Improving Food Production from Livestock, What Works: Feeding Cities, What works: Connecting Farmers to Market, For Sharing the Best in Agricultural Innovations, Nourishing the Planet Asks You: What Works?, and For Sharing the Best in Agricultural Innovations, Nourishing the Planet Asks You: What Works?.

Janeen Madan is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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