A new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations provides insights into how much food is lost—as well as where and why—at different stages of the food supply chain, calls for informed decisions for an effective reduction, and offers new ways to measure progress. This will not only help to achieve progress towards the important target of reducing food loss and waste but could also contribute to several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to food security and environmental sustainability, the report states.
According to the State of Food and Agriculture 2019, globally around 14% of the world’s food is lost after harvesting and before reaching the retail level, including through on-farm activities, storage, and transportation. However, the food losses vary considerably from one region to another within the same commodity groups and supply chain stages.
The report highlights the need, and offers a new methodology, to measure carefully losses at each stage in the food supply chain. Doing so will help to identify critical loss points across the supply chain. These are points where food losses have the highest magnitude, the greatest impact on food security, and the largest economic dimensions, as well as to identify the appropriate measures for their reduction.
It also points to the importance of reducing food waste, which occurs at the retail and consumption level and is linked to limited shelf life and consumer behavior, such as demanding food products that meet aesthetic standards and limited incentive to avoid food waste.
Evidence presented in the report shows a vast range in terms of loss and waste percentages within commodities, supply chain stages, and regions, suggesting there is a considerable potential for reduction where percentages are higher. Losses and waste are generally higher for fruits and vegetables than for cereals and pulses at all stages in the food supply chain, except for on-farm losses and those during transportation in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia.
In lower-income countries, more fresh fruit and vegetable loss is attributed to poor infrastructure than in industrialized countries. In fact, many lower-income countries lose significant amounts of food during storage, often due to poor storage facilities, including refrigerated warehouses.
Even though in most high-income countries adequate storage facilities, including refrigerated warehouses, are available throughout the supply chain, losses do occur during storage, generally because of a technical breakdown, poor management of temperature, humidity, or overstocking.
The report also reveals the results from several case studies conducted by FAO for identifying critical loss points. Results indicate that harvesting is the most frequently identified critical loss point for all types of food. Inadequate storage facilities and poor handling practices were also named among the main causes of on-farm storage losses. For fruits, roots, and tubers, packaging and transportation also appear to be critical.
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