Food waste: causes and solutions (2023)

Food waste occurs along all pathways of the food value chain, from production to consumption.

About a third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted. In a world where hundreds of millions of people are starving, this is a clear indication of the inefficiency of current food systems. Food waste often leads to economic losses for farmers and other stakeholders in the food value chain and higher prices for consumers, which affects food insecurity by making food less accessible to vulnerable groups. .

Food waste also makes it difficult to transition to green food systems. They represent a significant waste of land, water, energy and agricultural inputs and emit millions of tons of greenhouse gases.

Reducing food waste would increase the available food supply and strengthen global food security.

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Address future effortsof Climate Changeneed to find ways to reduce food waste. Since food production accounts for a large part of greenhouse gas emissions, reducing food waste contributes to climate protection. At the same time, as climate change threatens food production in many food insecure areas, reducing food waste can be an important component.Strategies for adaptation to climate change.

Food waste value chain and food production

Agriculture and food production are increasingly supplying urban and suburban supermarkets. Value chains are increasingly characterized by vertical coordination and, in some cases, the integration of primary production, processing and distribution; large-scale automation of processing; and higher capital and knowledge intensities.

A comprehensive global assessment of these transformations, especially in the wholesale and retail segments of value chains, is difficult due to the lack of easily accessible and comparable data.

However, some trends by country group and region can be derived from the existing literature.

Between 2001 and 2014, the share of processed foods sold in supermarkets in upper-middle-income countries increased significantly, from less than 40% to 50%. Over the same period, it grew from around 72% to 75% in high-income countries.

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In lower-middle-income countriesgrew from 22 to 27 percentbetween 2001 and 2008, without changes between 2008 and 2014. The picture is different for fresh foods. Over the past 10 years, the share of fresh food sold in supermarkets has remained below 50% in high-income countries,below 30% in upper middle income countriesand about 10% in lower-middle-income countries.

However, the global numbers hide regional peculiarities. In Latin America, rapid urbanization has led to profound changes in food production and distribution systems, and supermarkets account for more than 50% of food sales. In much of Asia, most shopping in urban areas is now done in supermarkets. Even in East Africa, the share of purchased food in total food consumption is almost 60%.

Hypermarkets, large supermarkets and convenience stores account for 93% of consumer purchases in North America, but play a much more modest role in Europe (55%), Latin America (46%), the Middle East and Africa (38%) and Asia (36%).

Another characteristic of Europe and Latin America is the existence of small supermarkets, which concentrate almost 20% of sales. It is difficult to say whether these small supermarkets, like traditional outlets, will maintain their market share or be absorbed by larger companies or become other outlets like supermarkets. B. discounts or large specialty stores.

There is likely to be room for diversified forms of distribution, especially given emerging forms of e-commerce that focus on the 'last mile' of the distribution system and emerging preferences for organic and ethical food.

The role of indigenous food systems

Sustainability concerns have resulted in consumer preference for high-quality, local foods combined with traditions and culture in high-income countries and in some areas of Latin America and Asia. Global food movements like “Slow food'promote this holistic approach to nutrition.

A related development in the evolution of food systems is the increasing potential for native food systems and neglected cultures to contribute to dietary diversification away from the limited food base.Further, wheat barley,reyesand soy.

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The recent appearance of native foods such as quinoa, amaranth, chia, argan oil and moringa in major markets underscores this potential.

Indigenous food systems have characteristics that make them particularly attractive, including the use of wild-grown and harvested plants, synergies with the natural environment and biodiversity, close adaptation to local conditions, high level of diversification, low carbon footprint, fewer externalities and reduced use. of external inputs.

They are closely related to culture and social and religious activities. While several native foods (eg, olluco, sweet potato, yams, kiwicha, and Andean and Pacific island native palms) can contribute significantly to the world's food supply, they are unlikely to become major food products without more research and adaptations.

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Indigenous food systems tend to be people-centred and many manage resources sustainably. They also combine the consumption of products with the purchase and sale of food, avoiding a purely commercial orientation. Foods with these properties have recently appeared in large retail chains through production systems such as organic agriculture, permaculture and biodynamic agriculture, which in part reflect the philosophical approaches of traditional societies.

While modern food systems rely heavily on a few species and varieties of edible plants, indigenous systems use several hundred edible and nutritious plants. The traditional knowledge that underpins indigenous systems is important for two main reasons. First, indigenous "superfoods" could address some of the nutritional deficiencies that currently affect more than 2 billion people. Second, the production of local crops that are normally eaten in the wild or with minimal domestication can, in some cases, be scaled up using advanced technologies.

This is already happening in the biocosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, which are heavily dependent on it.indigenous knowledge about plants and the medicinal properties of forest products. Similar alliances, if developed for food production, could expand the current narrow food base.


Accurate and timely estimates of losses and waste in the food system are not available. However, the evidence to date suggests that around 670 million tonnes of food is lost or wasted each year in high-income countries and 630 million tonnes in low- and middle-income countries – a total of 1.3 billion tons, or one-third of the edible portion of a food originally intended for human consumption.

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Food waste and losses are caused by different factors at different levels:

MikroebeneCauses arising from the actions of actors at the same stage of the food supply chain (eg, improper harvest planning and timing, poor harvesting practices, careless handling of produce, lack of storage space appropriate, lack of transportation options, consumer behavior).

meso levelCauses related to an entire food supply chain, i.e. H. Decisions or lack of decision by actors in that particular chain (eg poor coordination, very long chains, non-compliance with product standards , processed products contaminated with pesticides).

paper macrosCauses stemming from the general socioeconomic environment, such as a lack of infrastructure, inadequate legal frameworks, and price incentives and subsidies that encourage overproduction.

In low-income countries, significant food losses occur in the early stages, during harvest, and during post-harvest handling due to poor infrastructure, low levels of technology, limited knowledge base, and lack of investment in production.

Food waste and losses are also often caused by technical and managerial constraints in harvesting, storage, transportation, processing, packaging, and marketing. The greatest losses occur in the small and medium-sized sectors of agricultural and fishing production and transformation. Uncertainty about weather and market conditions and weak institutional frameworks also contribute to losses. Every year in Africa, about 13 million tonnes of cereals, or more than 15 percent of total cereal production, are lost during post-harvest operations.

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In all regions except South and Southeast Asia,Food waste and loss account for more than 30% of food originally intended for human consumption. However, the extent of losses and waste along the food supply chain varies from region to region. In North America, Europe, Japan and China, around 15% of food is lost or wasted during distribution and consumption. This percentage is lowest in North Africa and Central Asia (11%) and much lower in Latin America, South and Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa (5.9 to 7.8%).

By contrast, North America, Europe, Japan and China only lose or waste about 15% of their food during the harvest and post-harvest phases. In sub-Saharan Africa, where food losses and waste are particularly high at 36 percent, the retail and consumption stages account for around 5.9 percent, while the harvest, post-harvest, and processing stages account for more than 30%.

In the United States of America, consumer and retail food waste is estimated at more than 60 million tons per year. This represents 31% of the total food available in the food supply chain and is equivalent to approximately 1,250 calories per capita per day. in the European Union,Every year more than 100 million tons of food are wasted. With rapid urbanization and the growth of supermarket chains in low- and middle-income countries, food waste is increasing in their urban centers.


When it comes to the problem of food waste, technological solutions do not offer permanent solutions. Responses should address the attitudes and actions of a variety of stakeholders throughout the food supply chain. In high-income countries, food waste is mainly due to consumer behavior and economic decisions, as well as policies and regulations in other sectors.

For example, agricultural subsidies can encourage the production of surplus food. This overproduction helps contain prices, but it also means that food waste receives less attention, both from value chain actors and consumers. Most food waste is caused by retailers and consumers buying too much and then throwing away perfectly edible food.

Additionally, food safety and quality standards can remove food from the supply chain that is still safe to eat. At the consumer level, poor shopping planning and not using food before its expiration date also contribute to food waste.

In addressing the behavioral causes of food waste, policymakers must recognize that food waste can be rational from an individual point of view and results from optimizing the behavior of producers, processors, retailers, and consumers. However, there are economic costs and negative externalities that individual economic actors may not consider due to imperfect markets and lack of information.

The following steps can be taken to address and reduce food waste and loss:

Plant Nutrient Management

The first step in solving the problem of food waste in crops is to ensure a longer shelf life for agricultural products. This can be achieved by ensuring that agricultural products receive adequate nutrition during production. Most agricultural crops obtain nutrients from bothorganic or inorganic fertilizer. Overfeeding caused by excessive fertilization shortens the shelf life of produce, causing it to rot very quickly after harvest, leading to food waste. Malnutrition also negatively contributes to food waste. Therefore, farmers must find a balance in the application of fertilizers that aim to adequately nourish agricultural products. This can be achieved through a combination of practices that ensuresoil nutritionand understand the physiological properties of your plants so that nutrients are applied in the proportions that the plants only require.

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Appropriate storage technologies and systems also help prevent food waste. It does this by slowing down the process of spoilage and putrefaction of food. Farmers without good storage facilities experience high rates of food waste and loss. Grocery shoppers such as supermarkets and restaurants also need proper storage to preserve food. Therefore, investing in storage infrastructure is one solution to reduce food waste. Some storage infrastructures that limit food waste are refrigeration and cooling systems, silos, dryers, plastic film packaging, etc.

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This is another solution to the food waste problem that works by turning agricultural products into forms or states that have a longer shelf life. For example, cassava roots can be made into gari or flour through processing, and these two forms of cassava (AutomiFlour) have a longer shelf life than raw cassava roots. Also products of animal origin” (meat, fish,avesetc.) shelf life can be extended by processing.

Processing and storage go hand in hand because no matter what form or condition raw agricultural products are processed into, they still need to be stored properly. The only difference is that the processed form of the farm's own produce, if properly stored, has an increasingly better chance of maintaining its quality than the farm's own raw materials. In addition, edible food surpluses can be processed into other useful products such as animal feed, plant fertilizer, biomass or bioenergy, etc. To drastically reduce food waste around the world, more efforts need to be put into food processing technologies.

Value chain coordination

This requires an adequate and timely exchange of information between all actors in the food value chain. Farmers, for example, need to share harvest information with their wholesale buyers in a timely manner so that the logistics of transporting harvested food to consumers are organized effectively. Food retailers and buyers must inform farmers about the status of their supplies to avoid overproduction. In addition, food safety and quality officials must ensure that information on guidelines and standards is easily accessible to all actors in the food value chain to prevent food from being wasted due to regulatory issues. And in cases where excess food can go bad if not consumed quickly, humanitarian charities and NGOs must maintain databases so that excess food can be sent to them for distribution to the needy and underprivileged. If all the actors in the food value chain are well informed and coordinated, the occurrence of food waste will drastically decrease.

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The future of food and agriculture: trends and challenges (FAO)

Food systems and diets: meeting the challenge of the 21st centurycalleCentury (Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems)

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