SILVER SPRING, Maryland / URBANA, Illinois, USA, Jan 25 (IPS) – Ten percent of Americans live in food-insecure households. At the same time, the average U.S. family of four spends $1,500 each year on food that ends up uneaten. Food is the single most common material found in landfills; and food waste is responsible for 58% of landfill methane emissions released to the atmosphere. Food insecurity and food waste create a paradox that necessitates us to creatively address these two interlinked issues.
Both these issues are not just American problems, they are global. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, up to one third of all food produced goes to waste. And in a cruel twist, even as so much food goes to waste, more than one billion people are food insecure globally.
On the issue of food insecurity, countries have taken several approaches to address it, including policy level interventions. The White House, for example, created a task force to investigate the issue of hunger and food insecurity. It included it as a social determinant of health.
In Kenya, the government in collaboration with the World Bank through initiatives such as the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture and the National Agriculture Rural Inclusive Growth Project project is addressing food insecurity by deploying multiple strategies including providing farmers with inputs, offering them extension and climate advisory services, and facilitating market access.
It is important for governments to address these issues, but we must all do more. Here are five more ideas for tackling food insecurity and food waste.
First, tackle food waste at the production level. A recent study showed that inefficiencies in agricultural supply chains contribute 1.3 billion tons of food waste as it moves along to stores, restaurants and homes.
The U.S. government can promote a range of technological advancements to address this, including utilizing drones and cell phones and other technologies to accurately map what is being produced where and when including the expected yields, and timeframes.
Doing so would facilitate ensuring that all produced food can be marketed. Start-ups focused on ensuring all food that is produced is sold to consumers including through gleaning are at the forefront, championing these kinds of initiatives of urban gleaning programs in the US.
For example, there is a national map of gleaning, that rescues foods that would otherwise go to waste. These gleaning innovations serve a dual purpose – tackling hunger and food waste. Such innovations deserve to be promoted and invested in.
Second, farmers must develop innovative new crops that are resilient to climate change, easy to cultivate and packed with nutrients. An example is the biofortified orange-fleshed sweet potato developed at the International Potato Center and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
This species of potato grows with less water, can withstand disease and contains nutrients necessary for growth and development. For example, it is fortified with vitamin A to protect children from vitamin A deficiency, which typically causes blindness, diarrhea, and immune disorders.
Research published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research shows that orange-fleshed sweet potato improves vitamin A status, increases the availability of different micronutrients and reduces vitamin A deficiency, and therefore reduces child mortality rates.
Third, introduce marketing innovations that encourage consumers to not only focus on buying better looking products, but also ensure that consumers can still buy not so perfect foods.
For instance, Asda recently introduced the UK’s first supermarket ‘wonky vegetable’ box. It contains enough ugly potatoes and knobbly carrots to feed a family of four for an entire week for just £3.50. The ‘wonky vegetable’ box contains in-season winter vegetables and salad ingredients at a price that is 30% cheaper than standard lines. Customers love wonky fruit and veg and sales have steadily increased.
Fourth, integrate artificial intelligence and big data analytics and support these recent innovations. To date, artificial intelligence has been utilized in the modern day to help tackle several challenges and it could be utilized to facilitate tackling this dual challenge.
These technologies can be used to forecast disruptions in the supply chain by using historical data that’s combined with real time data. In so doing, companies involved in food distribution can proactively anticipate and prepare for any logistical and weather-related challenges that may disrupt scheduled food supply and distribution channels.
Lastly, celebrate the use of innovative ways to address food waste in order to inspire others.
In Ghana, Elijah Amoo Adoo, founder of Food for all Africa – West Africa’s largest food bank found that 46% of the food produced on farms in the country goes to waste because of poor logistics and inefficient marketing.
Consequently, Food for all Africa collects leftover food close to its expiry date from local restaurants, supermarkets, food distribution companies, and rural small-hold farmers, and redistributes to disadvantaged children in orphanages, hospitals and lower-income schools. This is significant in a country where 28% of all children aged five years and below are stunted.
Of course, it will be important to consider barriers to innovations that address the dual challenge of food waste and food insecurity. These barriers range from availability of incentives to consumer willingness to accept and pay for these innovations as well as the relevance of these innovations to specific regions and cultures. But the tradeoff is worth the work – reduced hunger and reduced waste, and millions of lives improved.
Dr. Ifeanyi M. Nsofor, MBBS, MCommH (Liverpool) is Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute, Senior Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity at George Washington University, 2006 Ford Foundation International Fellow.
Esther Ngumbi, PhD is Assistant Professor, Department of Entomology, African American Studies Department, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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