Food waste and its consequences

AN estimated 36 million tonnes of food is wasted in Pakistan every year. This is equivalent to every citizen of Karachi, Lahore and Hyderabad tossing out entire lunches and dinners every day.

According to a report, 40 per cent of food in Pakistan is wasted. This includes food loss during the supply chain (production, post-harvest handling, agro-processing, distribution and consumption) that occurs every year.

Owing to extreme weather conditions, food loss in this country is expected to be higher than computed by agricultural departments. Food wastage is the sum of food waste and food lost.

Food waste is common at wedding ceremonies. Most reception dinners take place at midnight, and by that time intensely hungry people rush towards the food tables, filling their plates excessively. Nearly half of the food in their plates is uneaten and goes to waste.

If wedding dinner times are moved back to 8pm, food waste would not occur, as guests would be moderately hungry. Moreover, an earlier time will allow people to behave in an orderly manner.

Two months back, it was learnt that the Sindh government would issue notifications for the closure of marriage halls by 10pm, and there would be a ban on serving more than two food dishes. The notifications were most probably never issued.

In addition to ceremonies, nearly 40pc of food wastage also occurs at various hotel banquets. Reportedly, in a major hotel in Islamabad, 870kg of food is wasted each day.

According to the outgoing country director of World Food Programme (WFP) Lola Castro, 43pc of the country’s population remains food insecure, with 18pc facing a severe shortage. The Global Hunger Index 2016 ranks Pakistan as a country with “serious” hunger level.

Wastage of food has many consequences. While 2.5 litres of water are sufficient for drinking each day, it takes about 3,500 litres to produce the food a person needs each day. Food waste impacts natural resources in terms of land and soil degradation.

Agricultural cultivation involves use of fertilisers and pesticides; transportation uses fuel and produces emissions; and storage involves use of electricity. All these resources go to waste when food is wasted.

Global Food Security, a recent report by the US National Intelligence Council, says that declining food security will almost certainly contribute to social disruptions and political instability.

Simply growing more food globally will not lead to countries becoming more food-secure because sustainable access will remain unequal; millions lack land access or income sources to buy sufficient food.

Food Insecurity and Violent Conflict, a paper released by the WFP, analyses the link between food insecurity and conflict- both political and violent. Authors Henk-Jan Brinkman and Cullen S. Hendrix say that food insecurity is a “threat and multiplier for violent conflict”.

Food insecurity, especially when caused by higher food prices, heightens the risk of democratic breakdown, civil conflict, protest, rioting, and communal conflict.

A number of options are available for tackling food waste.

The government’s social welfare departments may extend their outreach activities by collecting wasted food and distributing it among the needy. An example of this is a newly established market near Leeds, England, which stocks wasted food for needy shoppers.

The items are priced on a pay as you feel basis. Another option is subjecting food waste to anaerobic digestion to produce biogas. A California city, Manteca, plans to run all trucks on biogas, produced by the anaerobic digestion of food waste collected from schools, businesses and restaurants.

The writer has a master’s degree in environmental engineering from the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 12th, 2018