As many poor countries face food shortages and soaring food prices, much attention is being given to boosting agricultural production. But a new report says just as much emphasis should be placed on reducing the amount of food that is wasted each year, food worth billions of dollars. VOA's Joe De Capua reports.
As many poor countries face food shortages and soaring prices, much attention is being given to boosting agricultural production. But a new report says emphasis should also be placed on reducing the amount of food that is wasted each year, food worth billions of dollars.
From farms in developing countries to kitchens in the United States and Europe, a lot of food ends up as garbage. So says a report from the Stockholm International Water Institute.
Lead author Jan Lundqvist, chairman of the institute's scientific committee, explains how food is wasted at the very places where it's grown.
"That's due to poor harvesting technologies. That's due to poor transport, storage, lack of cooling facilities and such things. And that is a problem, which we think is predominantly the case in the poorer parts of the world. So a large part of the food that is produced by the farmers in the field is not reaching the market," he says.
In rich nations, food is generally plentiful and affordable. As a result, leftovers after a meal are often discarded. The report says in the United States, for example, 48 billion dollars worth of food is thrown away each year.
"The wastage of food - the fact that maybe primarily households are throwing away in the order of 25 percent, or one-third, or something like that, of the food that they are buying. Most of which is also perfectly fit for eating," he says.
But while Lundqvist talks about wasted food, he also says huge amounts of water are being wasted as well. The institute's report is entitled: Saving water: From Field to Fork – Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain.
"All the food that is being produced, either if it's eaten or thrown away, it has of course consumed water in production," he says.
How much water? Well, consider the amount used each year in irrigation systems around the world.
"Today, we use roughly 2,700 cubic kilometers of water for irrigation purposes. If half of that food is being lost or wasted, that means also that roughly 1300 cubic kilometers of water are also wasted. If we can reduce that figure, if we can reduce wastage and losses, then we would also reduce the pressure on irrigation systems<" he says.
If you're having trouble imagining 1300 cubic kilometers of water, it's equal to half the volume of Lake Victoria in East Africa.
With current food shortages and high prices in developing countries, there are increased calls for boosting agriculture production. But the Stockholm International Water Institute report says that addresses only half the issue. The head of the scientific program committee explains.
"I think it is important to improve production and productivity, for instance, in African countries because they have a very low productivity today. But I think we have to go into the future on two legs. We have to improve production in areas where it's possible to increase production; and we have to make sure that we try to reduce losses and wastage wherever that's possible," he says.
Among the report's recommendations are improving harvesting technologies and better transport and storage for farmers; innovative ways to capture rainfall; more efficient methods to process food; raising awareness about wasting food or letting tap water run unnecessarily; and better irrigation systems.
It also calls on policymakers, consumers and the business community to get more involved in managing natural resources and making food production much more efficient.