Food Wasted, Food Lost

Conclusion There are many challenges to world food security. Key among them are high population growth, the large amount of food lost or wasted, unsustainable use of scarce natural resources and the degradation of ecosystems.

A significant amount of the food that is wasted, while deemed unfit for human consumption, is still fit for use as animal stock feed, as well as feed in aquaculture. By finding safe and healthy ways to capture and reinvest food waste to feed animals and fish in aquaculture, significant amounts of the cereals and fish now used in animal feeds could be freed for human consumption. Cereals currently used as animal feed could, in principle, feed an additional 4 billion people. Forests provide a variety of foods including fruits, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, roots, honey, birds, insects and bush-meat. For example, forest insects form part of the traditional diet for about 2 billion people in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Food from forests is under threat from rapid deforestation, with a net of 5.2 million hectares of forest being lost each year. Deforestation also threatens food security as forests deliver crucial ecosystem services that other food-providing ecosystems depend on, causing a reduction in potential yields. The bulk of world food losses are in the developing countries where the tremendous efforts to improve agricultural yields have not been matched with the development of infrastructure to transport, process and store food. At least 40 per cent of all food losses in developing countries occur during post-harvest and at the processing stages. If the US$4 billion worth of food that is currently lost in sub-Saharan Africa could be avoided, it would provide food to meet the needs of 48 million people. In developed countries more than 40 per cent of food losses occur at retail and consumer levels – losses that can be reduced significantly with consumer and industry education. In order to meet current and future food demands while preserving the world’s ecosystems and sustainably exploiting their full potential for producing food, new and more appropriate management practices must be implemented in agriculture, fisheries and forestry. Ecosystem approaches represent an alternative to conventional food production that will not only reduce the human footprint on the environment, but also improve the Earth’s biological capacity and thus its food production potential. Ecosystems approaches to food production, including inter-cropping, integrated farming, conservation tillage, biological control of pests, agroforestry and integrated coastal zone management are some of the important strategies to be adopted in order to achieve this goal and feed the world in 2050.

In order to meet the needs of the world’s growing population, estimated to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, food production should increase by as much as 60 per cent. Conventional means to increase food production, including technological solutions such as high-yielding hybrid seed varieties and livestock progeny, will result in very marginal annual increases in food production (around 1 per cent per year over the next two decades). Accelerated cropland expansion will result in further negative impacts on forests and other ecosystems. Global food security is further threatened by the large amount of food that is either lost or wasted. This food does not feed people, and also wastes the natural resources used to produce it, leaving fewer resources to produce the next food crop, meat or fish catch. Against such a background, it is evident that the solutions to the world’s food security challenges depend on both significant reductions in the amount of food that is lost or wasted and the restoration of ecosystems so that food production is not only sustained but also increased. Food losses due to degraded agro-ecosystems are particularly alarming, with soil erosion, the most common form of land degradation, responsible for the annual loss of topsoil at rates that are 10 to 40 times greater than soil renewal. In drylands yield losses of as much as 4 – 10 per cent in crop production are incurred due to land degradation, desertification and drought. Reductions in food production are also caused by the loss of ecosystem services such as insect pollination. About 35 per cent of crops produced depend on insect and animal pollination, and the depletion and death of insects including bees are likely to have dramatic consequences for food production. A conservative estimate suggests that restoration of a quarter of the global degraded agricultural land could be enough to feed 740 million people. Similarly, much potential food is lost in the world’s fisheries due to overharvesting and overexploitation of the global fish stocks. If fish stocks were sustainably managed, an additional 9.9 million tonnes of fish and other seafood would be available on the global market, enough to meet the daily protein needs of 90 million people. Discards from commercial fisheries is one of the most wasteful practices found in food production, with as much as 40 million of the total global catch being discarded every year. Discards from fishing vessels alone could fulfill the daily protein needs of 370 million people for a whole year.


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