About two months back, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO, for short) published its 2015 edition of The State of Food food in the World. It placed India, with 194.6 million malnourished people, on top of a list of countries where people invariably go hungry.
The FAO report, which evaluated the progress made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal and World Food Summit hunger targets, had looked at absolute numbers. The 2014 edition of the Global Hunger Index (GHI), a more multi-dimensional statistical tool used to describe the hunger situation, had last October placed India in the 55th position and described the situation as “serious”.
In both these annual studies/reports, the issue of food security very rightly dominated the discourse. The politics of food is something that lies at the core of the issue of hunger, as also that of poverty. What is also linked closely is the problem of food wastage: FAO says up to one-third of all food is spoiled or squandered before it is consumed by people. It is a colossal waste, and it is criminal too.
Yet, the fact that often goes unheard in the clamour over the politics is the environmental cost of food loss and food waste. The economic cost of food loss/waste has been quantified: 1.3 billion tonnes every year. But before one gets into the environmental costs, it would be pertinent to define the two terms.
Even though it had always been known and debated that there are significant environmental implications of food production, till 2013 no study had been done to analyse the impacts of global food wastage from an environmental perspective. That year, FAO published its seminal study titled Food wastage footprint: Impacts on natural resources. The findings were expectedly grim:
Since this report was published, the subject has been cropping up time and again. In its 2014 report titled Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified that reducing food waste has the potential to contribute positively to a range of environmental and social agendas. These include reduced GHG emissions, creating of carbon sinks, increased provision of ecosystem services via ecosystem conservation and sustainable management as well as sustainable agriculture, improved soil quality, reduced erosion, increased ecosystem resilience, and increased enforcement of existing policies for sustainable resource management.
The environmental footprint of food wastage is therefore likely to figure more prominently in both food security and climate change debates in the future.
For the uninitiated, there are many resources to fall back on – for reducing food wastage as well as shrinking one’s environmental footprint:
Love Food Hate Waste campaign
Think Eat Save campaign