Food waste harms climate, water, land and biodiversity – new FAO report

food wasteApproximately one third of food, equivalent to 1.3 Gigatonnes of edible food, is lost or wasted, according to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, entitled Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources. Often discussed in terms of its contribution to global food insecurity, this new report highlights food waste’s detrimental impact on the environment. For example, the resources used to produce this uneaten food equate to 1.4 billion hectares of land (around 30% of all agricultural land in the world); 250km3 of blue water (equivalent to 3 times the volume of Lake Geneva); and 3.3 Gtonnes of CO2 equivalent (making food waste the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China).

While the costs of the loss of these natural resources is yet to be put in economic terms, the direct costs of food waste borne by the producers is some $750 billion each year, equivalent to the GDP of Switzerland.

The report also details key areas where large volumes of food are being wasted with severe environmental effects, most notably, cereals in Asia; meat in western countries and Latin America; fruit in Asia, Latin America and Europe; and vegetables in Asia and Europe.

While the aim of the report is merely to highlight the scale of the problem and identify priority areas for action, the FAO has also produced a Tool Kit for Reducing the Food Wastage Footprint, which provides guidelines for reducing food waste and gives practical examples of where this is happening. In particular it points to three areas of action:

·         Reducing food waste by improving losses on farms due to poor practices and by better balancing production with demand;

·         Re-using surplus edible food within the human food chain, i.e. in other markets or as food donations, and re-using non-edible food as livestock feed;

·         Recycling through by-product recycling, anaerobic digestion, compositing, and incineration with energy recovery to allow some energy and nutrients to be recovered from food waste, rather than it rotting in a landfill and producing methane. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Status of development, regulation and adoption of GM agriculture in Africa: Views and positions of stakeholder groups, Adenle, A., Morris, E.J., Parayil, G.

Investing in people and evidence for sustainable farming, SciDev.net

World Food Day: New Ranking Tool to Guide Investment in Biofortified Crops Launched, HarvestPlus

Past environmental pressures affect current biodiversity loss, European Commission

Commentary – Innovation for Sustainable Intensification in Africa, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Global Hunger Index Calls for Greater Resilience-Building Efforts to Boost Food and Nutrition Security, IFPRI

Report Finds Major Challenges to Meeting Global Food and Nutrition Needs by 2050, Digital Journal [Read more…]

A landscape approach to reconcile competing land uses

LandscapeA “landscape approach” to rural development is gaining in traction in international policy and now a new set of guidelines published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sheds light on the practicalities of implementing resource management plans across whole landscapes.

The idea behind the landscape approach is that multiple benefits from and pressures on an area can be balanced. Resource extraction, agriculture, conservation, and activities contributing to local livelihoods are all considered in an integrated manner. For each landscape there are multiple users and uses, each of which impact on each other. For example, chemicals used on agricultural land may run off into waterways, impacting the habitats of aquatic species and fish catch. As Terry Sunderland, a principal scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research and co-author of the paper published in PNAS, states, “People do not live in sectors or in departments, they live holistically. It is important that we collectively visualize how a landscape will look, for whom it needs to work and how it needs to function”.

The approach is yet to be ingrained in development activities perhaps because of the various definitions of what a landscape is. Often considered in physical terms, the paper in PNAS authored by Sayer et al, defines a landscape as, “an arena in which entities, including humans, interact according to rules (physical, biological, and social) that determine their relationships”. People are at the heart of this definition and the idea of multi-functional landscapes has been embraced in environmental management. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Food Security To Be At Centre Of Africa Development Agenda, World Food Programme

Vilsack Outlines Vision for Agricultural Solutions to Environmental Challenges, USDA

Nigeria, Brazil Partner On Food Production, Agricultural Technology Transfer, Ventures

Chart of the week: Africa’s growth / human development lag, Financial Times

Cutting Food Loss and Waste will Benefit People and the Environment, Says New Study on World Environment Day, UNEP

A Plea for Agricultural Innovation, Calestous Juma, Belfer Center

Bill Gates visits ICRISAT, ICRISAT

Population growth erodes sustainable energy gains – UN report, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Agricultural Productivity Will Rise to the Challenge, IEEE Spectrum

Chocolate Makers Fight for Farmers’ Loyalty, The Wall Street Journal

In Europe, Monsanto Backing Away From GMO Crops, The Huffington Post

Can market solutions unlock Africa’s agricultural potential?, Thomson Reuters Foundation

How We Can Eat Our Landscapes, Thinking Country

UN panel calls for end to extreme poverty by 2030 in roadmap for world’s top challenges, The Washington Post

Good news from the front lines of hunger, Ertharin Cousins

Commentary – Hay Festival 2013: Roger Thurow looks at the effects of famine, Global Food for Thought

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

New study: A warming world will further intensify extreme precipitation events, NOAA

Pioneers in Sustainable Food Show We Can Eat Well and Protect Environment, NRDC

You taste what you see: Do organic labels bias taste perceptions? Lee et al

Transforming lives through improved access to agricultural education in Africa, NRI

Enterprise fund, Farm Africa

Land sparing versus land sharing: new evidence, Ideas for Sustainability

Traditional weeding methods still prevail on Ugandan farms, Pathways to Productivity

How can agribusiness work best for development? The Guardian

Important source of greenhouse gas emissions from farmland underestimated, UC Davis

Uganda’s genetically modified golden bananas, BBC

Robustness and strategies of adaptation among farmer varieties of African rice (Oryza glaberrima) and Asian rice (Oryza sativa) across West Africa, PLoS One

Examining benefits and safety of genetically modified crops, Peoples Daily

Gender-sensitive climate finance crucial – experts, AlertNet

New IATP report addresses water governance in the 21st century, IATP

Loss of wild pollinators would hit crops, finds study, SciDev.Net

Fighting for family farmers, Huffington Post

The G-20 and Food Security: What Is the Right Agenda? The Stanley Institute

Obama signs ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ written by Monsanto-sponsored senator, RT

50 Years After Silent Spring

On the fiftieth anniversary of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Guardian writer Leo Hickman, opened up discussion about the book’s impact on the world.  The comments that follow the article raise several questions:

  • While synthetic pesticides are manufactured to be more targeted and less harmful to the environment they are also used prolifically and use is growing. So in terms of the chemicals we pump into the environment are we better off now or back then, in 1962 when the book was first published?
  • This leads to a second question: given our knowledge of the harm pesticides and other chemicals can have on the environment and human health, for example the recent evidence of the link between pesticides and declines in bee numbers, and, in some cases, their limited time period of effectiveness on pests, are we even more irresponsible to be continuing to use such products in this day and age?
  • A clear message from the book is that if the human population itself is to be sustainable we must co-exist with nature in the same way that environmentalism and economics must learn to co-exist or combine. But are we any nearer to reaching this and can the two fields find the middle ground?
  • Finally, how can two goals seemingly at odds with one another – feeding the world’s chronically hungry, 98% of which are in developing countries and 80% of which are smallholder farmers often facing pest, disease and soil fertility challenges, and ensuring the planet’s sustainability – be resolved?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions, to continue the discussion and to ensure we make progress within the next 50 years.

Sustainable Intensification in Agriculture

A report based on a two day workshop held in January 2012, part funded by the UK Government’s Foresight Programme, was recently published by the Food Climate Research Network and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food. The workshop brought together key thinkers to discuss sustainable intensification and more specifically its definition as well as the challenges facing it and the role of sustainable intensification in relation to environmental sustainability, animal welfare and human wellbeing.

The report concludes with a summary of the key insights from the workshop, summarised here: [Read more…]