Addressing post-harvest food loss

In this context reducing the vast scale of food wastage will be increasingly important. The FAO estimates that roughly 1.3 billion tonnes or one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost between farm and fork. Much of this is 'post-harvest' food loss that could be reduced in the developing world by building modern cold chains. The International Institute of Refrigeration has calculated that if developing countries had the same level of refrigerated transport and warehousing as found in the developed world, 200 million tonnes of perishable food would be saved each year, roughly equal to 14% of the current consumption in those countries.33 Another study found that halving food wastage could feed an extra 1 billion people34, which is comfortably higher than the 800 million who were chronically undernourished in 2012-14.

Investing in refrigeration in developing countries could also produce major economic gains: a study by Dr Lisa Kitinoja of the Postharvest Education Institute found that cooling of vegetables can produce benefts more than 7.5 times more valuable than the initial investment.35 And yet another paper, published by Cornell University, found that investing in infrastructure such as electricity, roads and rail to enable the reduction of post-harvest food losses would reduce food prices, increase food availability and security, and have positive economic rates of return.36

Every scenario studied in the paper generated benefits substantially higher than its investment cost, and resulted in substantial reductions in the price of food, particularly perishables such as meat, dairy and vegetables, by 2050 (see Table 4 below). At the same time, the population at risk of hunger would fall by 8.5-13.1% for developing countries as a whole, by as much as 18.6% for sub-Saharan Africa in one scenario. The paper compares the benefits of post-harvest loss reduction with those gained by investment in agricultural research, and concludes the two approaches to food security are complimentary.

Reducing food wastage would also conserve huge quantities of farm inputs currently used to produce food that is never eaten: it's estimated that food wastage occupies a land area the size of Mexico; consumes 250km3 of water per year, three times the volume of Lake Geneva; and accounts for 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, the third biggest emitter after the US and China.38

Table 4: Percentage change in world food prices in 2050 as a result of investment in infrastructure to reduce postharvest losses (PL scenarios) and investment in agricultural research (AR). Source: IFPRI 37

33 The role of refrigeration in worldwide nutrition, International Institute of Refrigeration, June 2009, http://www.iifir.org/userfiles/file/publications/notes/NoteFood_05_EN.pdf

34 Lost Food, Wasted Resources: Global Food Supply Chain Losses and Their Impacts on Freshwater, Cropland, and Fertiliser Use, Kummu, M., et al, Science of the Total Environment 438: 477-489, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969712011862

35 Identification of Appropriate Postharvest Technologies for Improving Market Access and Incomes for Small Horticultural Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, Dr Lisa Kitinoja, WFLO Grant Final Report to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, March 2010, http://ucanr.edu/datastoreFiles/234-2429.pdf

36 Benefits and Costs of the Food Security and Nutrition Targets for the Post-2015 Development Agenda, Mark W. Rosegrant et al, IFPRI, CGIAR, January 2015, http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com/sites/default/files/food_security_nutrition_assessment_-_rosegrant_0.pdf

38 Food wastage footprint, Impacts on natural resources, FAO, 2013, http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3347e/i3347e.pdf