Hagar El-Didi (IFPRI-Egypt)
Although world food production is more than enough for everyone, almost a third of it is wasted, and achieving food security remains one of the most urgent development challenges (FAO, 2011). Around 1 to 1.3 billion tons of food production is lost annually. In the near East and North Africa region alone, more than $60 billion worth of food are lost and wasted per year; that is $120 per capita. Food loss and waste happen at different stages of the food value chain, including production, post-harvest procedures, processing, distribution, and consumption. Considering the full food supply chain from ‘farm to fork’ is important to identify the stages most susceptible to food loss and waste, and achieve meaningful reductions in wastage. Understanding the impact of, and solutions for food loss and waste is also useful to better decide what kind of policies, investment programmes and projects are needed to achieve food loss and waste reduction.
The joint IFPRI-FAO seminar “Food Waste and Loss in Egypt” held on October 25th shed light on this topic, where presenters discussed the different ways food loss and waste are measured, the different causes of food loss and waste at different stages along the value chain and some of the efforts done in reducing food loss and waste in Egypt and globally.
While the magnitude of food losses and their causes are roughly known, more research is needed to assess the importance of the different causes of food loss and waste, and the potential feasibility and impact of solutions. How we define food loss and waste and how we measure them makes a big difference in understanding the scale and dimensions of the issue. The speakers discussed different definitions of food loss, which can be measured as loss in weight, energy, nutritional, caloric and economic value. In their presentations, both Eduardo Nakasone, Associate Research Fellow at IFPRI and Jennifer Smolak, Nutrition and Food Systems Officer at FAO agreed that it is important to consider the loss in quality of food, not only quantity, in the definition of food loss.
According to Nakasone, there are considerable differences in the available estimates of food loss, between case studies and even within the same crops in the same countries, depending on the methods of measuring food loss (see slides). In an effort to quantify food loss and understand its nature along the value chain, IFPRI researchers developed a value chain methodology for measuring food losses, which compares and combines three micro approach methods and the traditional self-reported method, in addition to distinguishing between loss in physical quantities and quality. Five case studies in Latin American and Africa showed that food losses at the farm level represent the largest chunk (60-80%) of loss, yet self-reported losses are underestimated, as they do not take quality into consideration.
Food loss or Food waste?
Nevertheless, these findings only relate to food loss. “Food loss and food waste are two different things”, highlighted Smolak, clarifying that food loss is linked to losses in food production and transport, whereas food waste is mainly at the consumption stage, related to consumer behavior and habits, retail practices and consumption-related policies (see slides). For example, as some of the audience pointed out, consumer behavior leading to food waste in Egypt may be partially attributable to habits and culture. Thus, household food waste is also very important to tackle.
Another dimension of wastage takes place in the processing stage. Mohamed Elemam, Quality Director at Al-Shams Agro Group for fruit juice and concentrates, presented the situation in the private sector, and described how the company deals with food loss, and how they plan to recycle fruit waste and rejected fruits on the farm. He explained that rejected fruits can be perfectly edible but do not fit the required size for flowing into processing pipes. Another portion of rejected fruits results from the fact that incoming fruits are poorly packed and over-piled. Better communication and agreement between farmers/traders and the company could reduce wastage, as the company receives unripe fruits that would have better been harvested later.
As pointed out by Amal Hassan Senior Researcher at the Food Technology Research Institute at ARC, reducing food loss to increase food availability security for the Egyptian population “is much less costly than increasing production by expanding production area”, land productivity and increasing food imports (see slides). In Egypt, food loss happens at different stages of the value chain, depending on the crop. For example, 25% of the rice grain is lost post-harvest, mainly during threshing. Around 12-15% of wheat production is also lost, but mainly due to pests, improper storage and improper transportation. Overloading of transport vehicles is a common cause for post-harvest loss in Egypt for many other crops. One of the recommendations of ARC research highlighted during the presentation is improving post-harvest technologies and techniques. For example, use of on-farm, low-cost storage facilities for tomatoes, and storing wheat in horizontal plastic silos would reduce losses and provide pest control.
What is being done?
On a broader note, the FAO’s Regional Strategic Framework for food loss and waste reduction in the Near East and North Africa aims to reduce wastage in the region by 10% by the next 10 years. This is being done through data gathering, awareness raising, promoting investment, policies and regulations. In Egypt, FAO projects such as the “Capacity Development & Awareness-raising for Wheat Food Loss and Waste Reduction” project, and the more recent “Food Losses and Waste Reduction and Value Chain Development for Food Security in Egypt and Tunisia” project are working to contribute towards this goal. The latter project focuses on the tomato and grapes value chains in Egypt in Nubaria and Sharqia, to support agro-enterprises and producers to reduce wastage, and improve post-harvest procedures. It aims to generate knowledge and data to monitor loss levels, as well as provide capacity development from the technical and managerial sides.
These efforts are coupled with input from the government side. Dalia Yassin, Senior Researcher at AERI, Agriculture Research Center (ARC), explained that the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation established a monitoring and evaluation unit at ARC which aims to reduce food loss and waste (see slides). As there have been separate efforts to tackle food loss and waste, establishing an entity to be the main platform for attracting these efforts and providing decision makers with support for solid strategies and policies is one of the aims of this project.