There is enough food to feed the world. But 30 percent of all food grown worldwide (approximately US$48.3 billion) is either lost or wasted before it reaches the consumer. If you then factor in the amount of waste that occurs once the food gets to the consumer, then it’s clear we have a global, "farm-to-fork" issue. In our new research brief on food waste—the first in a series exploring different elements of sustainable consumption—we look at how tackling this problem can help us begin to face up to current and emerging food security concerns.
Addressing food waste issues requires systemic action around the world: in upstream production this means looking at improving farming methods and building more robust infrastructure; midstream this means improving transportation and logistics; and downstream this means embedding awareness of waste into consumer consciousness. As is often the case with sustainability, the solution requires both technical and cultural shifts.
At a recent workshop we held in our Paris office on sourcing for local sustainable benefits in the food, beverage, and agriculture sector, the issue of “transitioning systems” was raised. Participants argued that, while technological advances are clearly important, achieving sustainability often hinges more on the ability to change behavior. Such behavioral shifts require working closely with small-holder farmers to help them understand what is being asked of them on issues like better water management. Additionally, it requires looking at the support system around the farmers—such as micro-lending and insurance or new financing models—to ensure they have access to capital to make the needed investments.
We also looked at behavioral shifts downstream. In richer countries, around 30 percent or more of food is discarded in processing, transportation, the retail environment (supermarkets and restaurants), and people's kitchens. Some retailers are designing marketing campaigns that encourage "smart" consumption patterns. Tesco, one of the top three retailers in the world, launched a “Buy One, Get One Free Later,” campaign in 2010 to offer a deferred benefit to customers buying a particular product. This strategy was a new spin on traditional deals that often result in products spoiling before consumers can use them. Restaurants, and many U.S. supermarkets, are also partnering with food banks to make the most of excess food and minimize the discards.
While there is clearly low-hanging fruit to be harvested when it comes to food waste, it would be naïve to suggest the solutions are all quick wins. We need large-scale systems thinking involving farmers, policy makers, brokers, buyers, and consumers for waste to be minimized throughout the entire food value chain.