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Challenge of Change

Decrease Food Loss and Waste through More Efficient Distribution Systems

Most of the models that predict the need for food production increases by 2050 do not include reductions in food waste or loss in their calculations. Researchers have estimated that reducing loss and waste to achievable levels would be sufficient to cut losses in half and provide enough additional food for one billion people, potentially reducing the need for increased production to estimates of 30 percent.

Currently, significant amounts of food are lost along the food supply chain—during production, postharvest, storage, processing, distribution, and at the consumer level. This can be an unintended result of agricultural and fisheries processing; technical limitations in storage, distribution, and infrastructure; or a failure in packaging and marketing, but it also includes household-level decisions. Each year in the United States, 52.4 million tons of food is sent to landfills, while an additional 10.1 million tons remain unharvested at the farm. Food loss refers to the decrease in mass (dry matter) or nutritional value (quality) of food that was originally intended for human consumption.

There are several methods to analyze loss and waste in the food system. Food wastage typically follows similar patterns across developed countries—with most wastage occurring at the later stages of the food chain in marketing and household consumption. In the United States and other high-income countries, 20 to 30 percent is wasted at the consumer and retail levels. The annual economic value of food waste and food loss in the United States is $218 billion, or 1.3 percent of GDP. In low-income countries, most of the wastage occurs during the early stages (harvest, postharvest, storage, and processing).

Researchers estimate 2 to 18 percent of cereal crops and up to 50 percent of fruit and vegetable crops in low-income countries are lost post-harvest. Food waste prevention cannot only reduce inefficiencies, address hunger, and reduce the negative effects on the environment, but also create jobs and stimulate economies. Urban communities must be a part of the solution to address the challenge of localizing food systems and reducing food wastage. They offer new arable land, land-independent food production options (e.g. hydroponics, aquaponics, green roof, green walls), and opportunities to localize supply chains close to the majority of consumers.

The Pathway to Meeting the Challenge

  • Conduct research to identify causes of loss and waste in food systems to design appropriate interventions to improve distribution, packaging, and other processes to reduce food wastage.
     
  • Build internal capacity to measure and analyze data, cost, and health outcomes to improve policy and behavior through addressing food waste and loss in the value chain.
     
  • Engage urban communities to develop opportunities for urban agriculture and aquaculture (e.g., aquaponics) to increase the availability of nutritious food in urban environments to promote healthy diets and to expand economic opportunities.
     
  • Generate knowledge of local food systems to re-localize those systems and revitalize communities through investment, job creation, and resilience building.

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