Reducing food loss

Published On: April 2, 2019 01:00 AM NPT By: Bhairab Raj Kaini

Nepal lacks specific policy to address food loss. Most programs focus on boosting agricultural production and increasing farm productivity

Nepal is a food insecure country and the main reasons for food insecurity are low agricultural production and productivity, food losses after harvest and high population growth. Since the last few decades, most of the developing countries including Nepal have focused on improving their agricultural production, land use, and population control as their policies to cope with this problem. Post-harvest loss, though a critical issue, has not received the required attention. There is no specific policy for addressing the issue of food loss in Nepal. Most of the programs on how to sustainably feed people focus on boosting agricultural production and increasing farm productivity.

Food loss is defined as food that is produced for human consumption but goes unconsumed. In other words, food that gets spilled or spoilt before it reaches its final product or consumption stage is called food loss. It is a complex problem and its scale varies from country to country. Food loss accounts for both physical losses and quality losses that reduce the economic value of crops and commodities, or may make them unsuitable for human consumption. Though losses occur at each stage of the supply chain from production to consumer level, storage losses after harvesting, transportation and storage are considered most critical in developing countries like Nepal. In recent years, food loss at household level is also increasing. A study conducted by the Solid Waste Management Technical Support Centre (SWMTSC) estimates 65 percent of household waste is organic in Nepal, mainly food waste. In the past, production loss used to be higher due to traditional methodology and lack of access to market.  But things have changed. 

How we lose food 

According to World Food Programme, the amount of food thrown away will be at 66 tons per second by 2030. According to International Food Policy Research Institute, globally, about a third of all food is lost or wasted every year, which is about 1.3 billion tons per year. These are the physical losses. Food loss also implies losses in nutrition, due to the loss of nutritious crops or their deteriorating quality. Nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables have the highest loss and wastage rates of any food products. In developing countries like Nepal, there is as high as 40 percent loss in fruits and vegetables during harvesting, handling, transportation, processing and storage. 

Food is lost or wasted throughout various stages of the food supply chain. During agricultural production, crops and harvest can be damaged or spilled, animals may die due to diseases, fish may be discarded during fishing and milk could be lost due to cattle diseases. Crops, animals, fish or milk may be lost during post-harvest handling, storage and transportation as well. During processing, food may be lost or degraded during washing, peeling, slicing, canning, packaging or during slaughtering, smoking, freezing or pasteurizing. During distribution, food may be lost or wasted during transport at wholesale markets, supermarkets, retailers, etc. Finally, consumers may waste food by throwing it away. These days, more food is being wasted creating severe environmental and public-health consequences in urban areas.

It is critical to reduce food losses to improve food and nutrition security. But, though there are some estimates of food loss in Nepal, it is still unclear where exactly losses occur and what is their magnitude along the value chain for different crops and commodities. Measuring food loss and waste, identifying where in the food system it occurs, and developing effective policies along the value chain are essential steps toward addressing the food loss problem. 

Areas for intervention 

In order to address these knowledge gaps, Nepal Agriculture Research Council (NARC) should start to develop better methodologies for research that include both pre and post-harvest food losses. In fact, a whole value-chain approach of research is necessary. Furthermore, research should also be focused on (economic) studies that provide a greater understanding of impacts of wastage reductions on food prices and supply and demand side dynamics, and their interaction in the food market.

Past experiences elsewhere suggest that technology interventions play a critical role in addressing food losses, and several efforts have to be made to develop and disseminate these technologies to all actors of food value chain. Therefore, reducing food loss should be one of the priorities in the government research programs. Several developed countries have developed policies and regulations to reduce food losses. In Nepal not much work has been done on this front and existing programs focus on increasing production. Improving harvesting and storage techniques, use of cold chains for transporting produces, proper handling of the produces at different points of the value chain, enhancing storage infrastructures and improved packaging and processing can go a long in reducing food losses in Nepal. Investments and actions will have to be tailored according to local situations and needs.

Protection against invasive species, pest management measures, reusing waste to feed animals, and using waste streams for ethanol production can help a lot. Besides, smart packaging may be effective in both reducing waste and decreasing the negative environmental impacts of food production and consumption. Additionally, packaging could contribute to food quality and safety as well. Establishing food bank is another way to reduce food waste by redistributing surplus stock that would have otherwise gone to waste. Awareness raising on the impact of, and solutions for food loss and waste is also equally important.

Boosting production along with reducing food waste could help significantly to make food available for human consumption. Investment in agricultural research, transportation infrastructure and communications technologies should be the priority. Food loss can also be influenced by many other factors such as access to regular energy supply, government commitments, regulation and many others. Finally, we need to identify various determinants of food loss and develop programs accordingly to address them.

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