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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Report: world wastes 50% of all food

As we have often stressed, the bioenergy debate is not about a lack of resources (land, water), but about the way in which production chains are optimised and waste streams reduced. A new report by the Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), and Stockholm Water Management Institute (SIWI), shows indeed that the world produces more than enough food to sustain the global population, but warns that a staggering half of all this food is currently wasted. And so is the water needed to produce it. The good thing about these dramatic findings is that there is ample room for a variety of waste-reduction strategies.

According to Saving Water: From Field to Fork - Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain [*.pdf], tremendous amounts of food, and thus water, are discarded in the fields, during processing, in transport, in supermarkets, restaurants and in people's kitchens. Jan Lundqvist, who heads the scientific programme at SIWI, says the losses of all the food that farmers grow is an incredible 50 percent on a global scale.

Developing vs. developed countries
Food wastage depends largely on the society in which it was grown and consumed (illustration, click to enlarge).

In poor countries most food is lost at the producers' end: food gets lost in the fields or due to lack of storage and cooling systems or poor transport mechanisms.
In many areas of the world you simply cannot store food efficiently, because it is not handled well. - Jakob Granit, SIWI project director
In many developing countries, food losses due to crop losses and lack of infrastructures are 25% for grains and up to 50% for fruits and vegetables. Poor farmers are highly inefficient when it comes to harvesting and processing their products, but they are also defenseless against crop losses caused by pests and disease. Investing in basic farm inputs and in storage, cooling, processing and transportation facilities can make a tremendous difference.

The experts also stress the need for a Green Revolution in Africa, which can reduce losses tremendously, not only by introducing more efficient crops, but by investing in support systems including credit, subsidies, price policies, extension services and infrastructural investments, e.g. in (agriculture) schools, roads and canals:
An African Green Revolution would need to concentrate on the supportive measures. Implementing a Green Revolution in Africa would also, in theory, make room for considerable acreage to be devoted to bioenergy crops without jeopardizing food security or marginal lands. - Saving Water: From Field to Fork
In richer societies, most waste happens at the consumer level, while changing diets and an increased appetite for water-intensive foods like dairy products and meat, especially beef, in these regions amplifies the water drainage, the experts say.

In the United States, for example, 30 percent of all food, worth 48.3 billion dollars (€32.5 billion), is thrown away each year:
[This] corresponds to 40 trillion litres of irrigation water, enough water to meet the household needs of 500 million people. - Saving Water: From Field to Fork
In urban settings, we have lost touch with realities, the experts say. People do not know where food comes from, they do not know what it takes to produce food, the report stresses. For example, it takes between 10 and 15 tonnes water to produce a single kilo (2.2 pounds) of beef. If you throw away half of that kilo, that means you've thrown away 7.5 tonnes of water:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

What can be done?
With reference to the targets for Millennium Development Goals and with due consideration to the magnitude of losses and the potential gains, a reduction by 50 percent of losses and wastage in the entire food chain from field to fork – including agricultural and post harvest practices – seems realistic, the authors say.

They make several suggestions for interventions to achieve this aim, but these initiatives must be part of a broad-scale agenda.

More food with less water
First of all, large quantities of water are lost in the field. Roughly there are two ways of capturing this water. First, capturing a larger share of the rainfall and make it accessible for productive transpiration. Second, changing the way water is used in crop production by maximizing the benefits per unit of water consumed in rainfed and in irrigated agriculture.

Several strategies to improve the water productivity, or “crop per drop”, are available. Related to this option, it will be increasingly important to have a strategy for where food is best produced. Climate change and the associated escalated water scarcity will make agricultural production very difficult or very costly in large parts of the world whereas opportunities will be improved in areas blessed with a water abundance of dependable water availability.

Saving water throughout the food chain
The sheer magnitude of losses, wastage and over-consumption means that we have the ability and options to reduce gross food demand and agricultural water supply without affecting food security. Most losses occur after food is produced in the field. As water has already been evaporated, successive losses down the food chain add up to considerable unproductive water use.

The amount of water that can be saved by reducing food waste is much larger than that saved by low-flush toilets and water-saving washing machines. It’s time for us to move beyond thinking about how we meet quantities, and to start looking at the type of foods we produce and how we benefit from them, the authors say.

A combination of policy measures will be necessary: investment support in post-harvest technologies, scrutiny of the role of the food-processing industry and supermarkets, as well as pricing mechanisms and strategic efforts to visualize and educate the public on practically contributing to reducing food wastage.

Schools and public institutions could be focused entry points for such a strategic effort, as general awareness campaigns have proved to be rather ineffective. To successfully address losses in the food chain it will be necessary to involve various sectors and actors.

Involving stakeholders

The business community increasingly sees the need to protect water resources to safeguard future production. Earlier this year, serious concerns about water scarcity affecting the industrial sector were expressed at the World Economic Forum. Attention was drawn to its potential negative ramifications on future economic wealth and political security. Special concern was raised to limits of sustainable water use being reached or breached in many world breadbasket regions. The meeting concluded with a “call for action”, with the following focus points:
  • Water governance for transparent/fair allocation to users and sound incentives for efficient water use
  • Water for agricultural use (“more crop per drop”; 70 percent of water withdrawn worldwide)
  • Water for industry (water efficiency within operations)
  • Water for energy (the deepening link between water resources and climate change)
  • Water for human purposes (sustainable and affordable access to safe drinking water and sanitation)
  • Water for the environment (to ensure sustained ecosystem security).
Several business leaders see a triangle of related issues critical to the sustainability of their businesses: climate change–water–food.

With an increasing distance between field and fork, consumers are losing touch with farm practices, and often do not realize that food production comes from living things that require natural resources to grow. Food is undervalued as a commodity, and waste seems harmless. Awareness-raising and environmental education are crucial, with target groups such as schools, hospitals and offices a good point to start.

Price incentives also have a role to play. Recent hikes in food prices raise concerns related to food security, particularly for poor consumers who buy food in the market. On the other hand, price increases are beneficial to farmers and send a clear signal to consumers that food is valuable and should not be unnecessarily wasted. It’s time to curb wasteful behavior, and as consumers we all have a role.

A first step is getting inefficiencies in the food chain onto the political agenda. In the 1970s and 1980s there were several studies conducted on global and regional post-harvest losses but the topic now seems to be off the agenda. There are relativly few people who deal with these issues. Recent studies are scarce and often refer back to older works, but sketchy evidence shows huge losses. To effectively reduce food losses, information on where, how much and why losses occur is essential. Without awareness backed up by good estimates, policy design will be difficult.

Illustration: Main types of food losses and wastage. Credit: Britt-Louise Andersson, SIWI.

Stockholm Water Management Institute: Saving Water: From Field to Fork - Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain [*.pdf] - May 2008.

Stockholm Water Management Institute: 50 Percent of Food is Wasted Causing Water, Food and Hunger Crisis, Says SIWI, FAO and IWMI - August 21, 2008.


Anonymous Aaron S said...

Really interesting article. An eye-opener to how much we actually waste in the developed world, too. It’s rare to read about the amount of food and water wasted throughout the “field to fork” chain – focus is usually on waste at the consumer level. I think it’s imperative that awareness is raised about such waste and food losses at all the levels and people start to take a more holistic look at rising food prices and why we aren’t able to feed everyone affordably. Water is a big issue too. In the face of these issues, there are new technologies that range from improved cultivation and water management techniques to agrochemical inputs and superior plant varieties, agricultural biotechnology included, that really need to be explored in greater detail and given a chance to help us manage our resources better and reduce unnecessary losses and wastage. Unfortunately there is a widespread hostility to such technologies that hinders their potential. I think this is therefore also a strong case for educating people better on the “field to fork” process and helping them to understand what goes into that process that brings food to our plates – articles like these go a long way in doing so. Thanks for the posting.

7:14 PM  

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