FAO Food Waste Statistics

FAO Food Waste Statistics

This is an interesting set of statistics, a little too clean for me to accept blindly but interesting nevertheless.

I don’t doubt there is a great deal of waste in the global food chain, I am just curious how some of these statistics were collected. I can’t imagine there is good data on harvest lost at the farm in much of the developing world. I also wonder how they have defined waste when putting together this list of numbers. Does food that is starting to go to waste and is fed to animals considered waste, how about compost? While it is true that these uses may be sub-optimal  they are also not complete losses for the farmer.

The other thing that I found interesting from this page is that waste in the developing world and the developed world are remarkably similar in terms of total food waste. The difference is where the waste is occurring. In the developing world waste occurs primarily at the farm-level and in transportation to the market. Clear symptoms of poor infrastructure and access to technologies like cold storage, and good roads. In the developed world the waste occurs mostly on the tail end of the food production chain with food going to waste in consumers homes or at supermarkets due to food standards that are focused on aesthetics. While both are food waste, the causes are very different as are the consequences to society from this waste.

  • Waste at the farm level hurts farmers who lose potential food and revenue. Without the security of selling all of ones harvest due to waste creates major disincentives to investing in farm productivity (irrigation, weeding, fertilizer, etc), as the farmer can’t be sure these investments.pay off, as the harvest may end up spoiling in bags while waiting to reach the market. In many ways, the worst losses from post harvest loss comes from missed economic opportunities.
  • Waste at the end of the production chain is perhaps less visibly damaging, because it disappears once people have had their opportunity to eat what they want. However, in many ways it is more wasteful than waste after post-harvest. Why? Think about all the steps that are taken to getting food from the farm to our tables. There is harvest, transportation to a processing center, processing and converting primary goods into market ready goods, packaging, transportation to super market, and then transportation to your home. Waste at the end of the chain means that all of the work, and energy required to move harvested goods all the way through the chain has also been wasted when we throw away unconsumed food.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Annals of Misleading Statistics: Literacy 83

Amen David McKenzie. In the field of International Development the availability of good data is frustratingly awful, which makes it difficult to identify let alone pursue good policy. There is no need to compound this problem by misrepresenting and oversimplifying what limited data we have. I applaud any attempt to communicate the real problems that exist in the world, and increasing awareness, but the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle is often not the best way forward if we are concerned about real long term changes. Instead building capacity to understand and interpret more complex situations and numbers should be the goal, and refrain from “Fox-Newsifying” everything in the attempt to quickly reach people and avoid having to do the hard and long work of educating people on the issues.