As millions go hungry, Asia battles food waste

by Alisa Tang | @alisatang | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 29 August 2013 15:40 GMT

A girl eats an orange scavenged from a pile of rotten fruit and vegetables in a market on the outskirts of Islamabad January 20, 2011. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

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An estimated 42 percent of the fruit and vegetables and 20 percent of the grain produced in the Asia Pacific region are lost or wasted, leading the region to launch a campaign to cut down on food waste

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than half a billion people in the Asia Pacific region suffer from hunger, yet an estimated 42 percent of fruit and vegetables and a fifth of the grains produced here are lost or wasted, U.N. food experts said as they kicked off a campaign to cut the region’s massive food waste and feed its growing population.

“The Save Food Asia-Pacific Campaign seeks to raise awareness about the high levels of food losses - particularly post-harvest losses - and the growing problem of food waste in the region,” Hiroyuki Konuma, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) assistant director-general, said in an FAO statement.

Worldwide, 1.3 billion tonnes of food - enough to feed 3 billion people - is lost every year.

“FAO estimates that if the food wasted or lost globally could be reduced by just one quarter, this would be sufficient to feed the 870 million people suffering from chronic hunger in the world,” said Konuma, who is the FAO regional representative for Asia and the Pacific.

With the world population expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, he emphasised the need to increase food production by 60 percent, amid constraints such as the decline of arable lands, scarcity of water and the impact of climate change and natural disasters.

“We have to attain this goal and produce and supply sufficient food to meet the needs of our future generation. Otherwise, social and political stability and world peace and stability would be compromised, as we already witnessed in the recent past,” he told 130 representatives from 20 countries at the meeting.

“There is no room to entertain food losses and food waste any more in the future.”

HUNGER AMID GROWTH

While the region’s economies expanded rapidly in the first decade of the 21st century, the benefits of the growth were unevenly distributed, resulting in a wider income gap in several countries, so the economic growth did not alleviate hunger and poverty, Konuma said.

According to U.N. statistics, an estimated 653 million people across the region lived below the national poverty line in 2010. In 2012, the Asia-Pacific region was home to 536 million hungry people, or 62 percent of the world’s undernourished.

The problem is the amount of food wasted, not inadequate production.

“The world produces more or less sufficient food to meet the demand of its current population of 7 billion. However, 12.5 percent of the global population, or 868 million people, equivalent to one in eight people, go hungry every day,” Konuma said.

Some households waste food because they buy too much, do not store it properly, or fail to eat it before the expiration date.

“At our dining tables, nearly 15 to 20 percent of foods cooked are left over, thrown away and wasted in Europe, North America and industrialized Asia,” he said.

In Asia, food is lost in transit from rural production areas to urban consumers because of poor quality roads, hot and humid weather conditions and poor packaging, he said.

“Not only do these food losses increase the cost of food for consumers and reduce incomes for producers, they threaten food security as a whole.”

The meeting’s delegates pledged to support research into farming practices that would prevent food rotting in fields or being attacked by pests, and the improvement of infrastructure and development of farm machinery, packaging, storage and transport systems to prevent post-harvest losses along the supply chain to the consumer.

“In view of consumers wasting food, we campaign for greater respect for food and behaviour change of consumers,” they said in a conference closing statement late on Wednesday.

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