Food Waste

More food is wasted on farms than in retail

A study found that the volume of farm-level food waste is much higher than that of post-consumer food waste.

food waste food loss sustainability

1,2 billion tonnes of food are lost on farms alone, a report finds.

Conducted by WWF and UK retailer Tesco, the Driven to Waste report shows that farm level waste- the mentioned figure being equivalent to the weight of 10 million blue whales-accounts for the staggering amounts of food being wasted on a global basis. (In comparison, households coupled with the retail and food service sector contributed to the lesser sum of 931 million tonnes of food waste.)

Yet, it’s the common perception that consumers and retailers are primarily responsible for food loss. This is because ‘food loss’ as a term is conceived as being caused by ‘negligence or a conscious decision to discard food’. Yet the described phenomenon can be attributed to a variety of factors, ranging from pests, disease and natural disasters to poor infrastructure and unfavourable market conditions.

The Driven to Waste report highlights the fact that food waste is just as predominant in the food pre-production stage, specifically pre-as well as mid-harvest and slaughter. Beyond uncontrollable factors such as weather, transport conditions or processing, human decisions that affect the proliferation of food loss at an early stage of the supply chain relate to issues such as direct governance or cultural factors. One example for this would be farmers who are unable to afford clean technologies or (re-)training. With farmers in developing countries often unable to dictate prices or apply sustainable technologies to render food waste sustainable, particularly when faced with unexpected food order cancellation, the generation of food waste at early stages in the production cycle should come as no surprise.

Yet, internationally, statistics on food loss as well as food waste remain skewered. As such, the Sustainability Development Goals issued by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization only demands a slash of post-retail global food waste by 50% by 2030, failing to account for the vast volume of food waste generated at other stages of the supply chain.

Pete Pearson, Global Food Loss and Waste Initiative Lead at WWF, champions a holistic approach to the problem. According to him, national governments and market actors across the world are called to support farmers in order to reduce food waste. In order to address the relative power imbalances between farmers and retailers as well as change the rigid market structures that stringently separate customers from farmers, a multi-stakeholder policy needs to be adopted, Pearson argues.

“NGOs and multilateral organisations, market and supply chain actors, governments and citizens can all play a role in tackling the direct drivers of food waste on farms,” he concludes.