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October 30, 2014

Challenges for Latin America

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A third of the food produced annually is lost or wasted

By Marcio Porto
For The Herald
Globally, between a quarter and a third of the food produced annually for human consumption is lost or wasted. This equates to about 1,300 million tons of food, including 30 percent of grains, between 40 and 50 percent roots vegetables, other vegetables and oil seeds, 20 percent of meat and dairy products and 35 percent of fish. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that such foods would be enough to feed 2,000 million people.

The losses relate to the decrease in mass of food available for human consumption in phases of production, post-harvest, storage and transport. Food waste refers to losses resulting from the decision to discard food that still has value and is mainly associated with the conduct of wholesalers and retailers, retail food services and consumers.

This is one of the great remaining challenges to achieve full food security, a challenge against which Latin America and the Caribbean is no stranger: the FAO estimates that six percent of global food losses occur in Latin America and the Caribbean and the region lost each year and or wasted about 15 percent of their food available, even though 47 million people still suffer hunger.

Losses and waste impact the sustainability of food systems, reduce local and global food availability, fewer profits for producers and raise prices for consumers. They also have a negative effect on the environment due to unsustainable use of natural resources. Considering the above, addressing this problem is essential for progress in the fight against hunger and must become a priority for governments in Latin America and the Caribbean.

With foods that are lost in the region only in terms of retailing, ie supermarkets, street markets, shops and other retailers, more than 30 million people could be fed, that is 64 percent of those suffering from hunger in the region.

Food that is lost at this rate in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize and Colombia is equivalent to the amount that would be needed to feed all the hungry people in these countries. Twelve others might have equivalent food to those who need to reach the first Millennium Development Goal, if only reduce such losses.

This represents only a fraction of the total losses and waste, as they occur at all stages of the food chain: 28 percent occur at the consumer level; 28 percent at the production satge, 17 percent in marketing and distribution and 22 percent during handling and storage, and the remaining six percent at the processing level. While it is important to note that the countries of the region have more than enough calories to feed all its citizens, the huge amount of perfectly healthy, nutritious foods that are lost or end up in the garbage bin is simply unacceptable while hunger continue affecting about six percent of the regional population.

There are ways to avoid losses and waste in every link of the chain, primarily through investment in infrastructure and physical capital. It is necessary to improve the efficiency of food systems and good governance in that area by regulatory frameworks, investment, incentives and partnerships between the public and private sector. One example is the food banks, which put together food that for various reasons would be discarded for redistribution and that already exist in Costa Rica, Chile, Guatemala, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Brazil and Mexico. The Food Banks Association of Mexico, for example, is a non-profit organization that only in 2013 rescued 56 thousand tons of food.

Public awareness is also key, and can be done through campaigns for each of the actors in the food chain, as global SAVE FOOD initiative does, a partnership between the FAO and the German company Messe Düsseldorf. SAVE FOOD gathers 250 members, organizations, public and private companies and performs campaigns in all regions of the world.

Eradicating hunger in the region requires all sectors of society to make efforts to reduce their losses and waste. The potential benefits are incalculable. We not only have a direct effect on the lives of millions of people, but imply a profound change of mind, a fundamental step towards patterns of consumption and production truly sustainable to ensure that no child, man or woman suffers hunger in a world where food is abundant.

Marcio Porto is the representative in Argentina for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

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