With all the waste, ending African hunger remains a myth

By Janet Atieno

I visited a friend one afternoon in one of Nairobi’s suburbs and when she invited me to help her prepare a meal, we realised most of the food on the shelf had expired or gone stale. Other foodstuffs had overstayed in the refrigerator and were not fit for human consumption going by the mould and foul smell emitted.

So instead of cooking, we stocked the trash can with expired food worth about $200 and then headed for a nearby eatery.

This was just one household of a bachelorette- you will forgive me but this term has become acceptable among Kenyan singles. I do not know what goes on in the houses of the bachelors who do not frequent kitchens more often. Perhaps if If I had surveyed the whole apartment block of 10 houses, the wasted food could have amounted to about $2,000 or higher. You could multiply this figure by the five more apartment blocks on that lane and you get $10,000, a staggering waste.

This drew my attention to the magnitude of the problem of food losses through waste and which is increasingly becoming a major concern in Africa and beyond.

Though attempts by researchers to quantify the food wasted in Africa have been futile due to limited data, the problem is so grave that UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and other partners on Tuesday rolled out a new global campaign -Think. Eat. Save. Reduce Your Food print (http://www.thinkeatsave.org/) to reduce food loss and waste along the entire chain of food production.

UNEP estimates that about 1.3 billion tonnes of food is either lost or wasted annually.

Serious problem
To illustrate how waste is serious in the continent, a report, The costs of household food waste in South Africa estimates that about 9.04 million tonnes is lost annually. In the findings, the costs associated with food-waste related problems are estimated at $2.7 billion per year, or 0.82 per cent of the country’s annual GDP.

This is one country alone and the trend is quite telling about other nations in Africa and beyond.
This comes against the backdrop of FAO report, which estimates that almost 870 million people are chronically undernourished globally in 2010–12; a figure that is still unacceptably high thus; ending hunger remains a major global challenge.

Though drought, bio-fuels, high oil prices, low grain stocks and speculation in food stocks are some of the factors, which have been blamed in the past for the perennial hunger, food waste could aggravate this further in the coming decades if not checked.

I couldn’t agree more with UN Under-Secretary-General who is also UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner when he said,”‘ In a world of seven billion people, set to grow to nine billion by 2050, wasting food makes no sense - economically, environmentally and ethically.'

Out of the 870 million starving population, 239 million are from the Sub-Saharan Africa. Ironically, a large amount of food produced is still lost in the production process or in the supply chain thus they never reach the consumer. The consumers also throw food away as most of it goes bad due to poor storage thus contributing to rising hunger and food insecurity across the continent.

Simple actions
Calls have been made to various governments to provide farmers with post-harvest infrastructure to prevent food products from going to waste before it reaches consumers. This includes good transportation network to the markets and even proper storage facilities in the process.

However, simple actions by consumers and food retailers can also significantly cut this loss.

As experts call for increased production to stem hunger in developing countries in view of the number of starving population globally, World Hunger Education Service points that the world produces enough food for everyone.

According to their statistics, agriculture alone generates about 17 per cent extra calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 per cent population boom globally. This therefore means hunger does not necessarily stem from poor food production alone.

Therefore, eradicating hunger and achieving Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the prevalence of undernourishment in the developing nations by 2015 will remain a myth if proper measures are not taken to stop the food waste.

Reversing this wastage trend could translate into increased food security and there would be enough to save extra people from starving to death and help shape a sustainable future. This change could start from your kitchen, not government’s boardrooms or some hunger taskforce.

Source: Africa Review

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