How to reduce food waste

By Chris Arsenault

Originally published in World Economic Forum (WEF) in February 2015

Reducing consumer food waste could save the global economy up to $300 billion annually by 2030 as one third of all food produced worldwide ends up being discarded, a research group said on Thursday.

Globally, the food wasted by consumers is worth $400 billion a year, and this could jump to $600 billion in the next decade, as the profligate middle class expands in developing countries, the group said.

Cutting the amount of food consumers discard by between 20 and 50 percent could save between $120 and $300 billion yearly by 2030, said the report for the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an international group chaired by former Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Food waste in developing countries is due mainly to inadequate refrigeration equipment and poor transport links to markets and processing plants.

“Less food waste means greater efficiency, more productivity, and direct savings for consumers,” Helen Mountford, Global Programme Director for the New Climate Economy, a Global Commission project, said in a statement.

“It also means more food available to feed the estimated 805 million that go to bed hungry each day.”

The UK-based Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which produced the report for the Global Commission, is in a partnership with U.N. agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization to give consumers tools for preventing waste.

In the United Kingdom, a programme to improve efficiency – the Love Food Hate Waste campaign – helped households reduce food waste by 21 percent between 2007 and 2012, saving a total of 13 billion pounds ($20.1 billion), the WRAP report said.

In developing countries, about 25 percent of food waste could be eliminated with better refrigeration equipment, WRAP said.

Consumers are responsible for the majority of discarded food in developed countries, often as a result of buying too much at the grocery store or cooking too much, while most of the developing world’s waste happens before food reaches consumers.

Along with improving economic efficiency, reducing waste has big implications for the environment.

An estimated 7 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, are due to wasted food, the report said.

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How will people be displaced by climate change?

By Megan Rowling

Published in World Economic Forum in February 2015

The days when newspapers ran headlines about the hundreds of millions of climate change refugees who’d be knocking on the doors of rich countries in the coming decades are long gone. Experts in environmental migration are not exactly mourning the loss.

In the past few years, as researchers have deepened their understanding of how climatic stresses are pushing people to move, they have stopped making predictions about the numbers and started talking about the complexity of the phenomenon.

Recently we ran a story about how impoverished villagers on the mud flats of Pakistan’s south coast are being forced to move inland a few kilometres due to a combination of sea-level rise, storm surges, flooding and land erosion – a far cry from the early spectre of mass migration across borders.

But this is the reality of the incremental changes occurring in many places, particularly across vulnerable regions of Asia and Africa, as environments become less hospitable and people consider their options as it gets harder to make ends meet.

Then there are those temporarily forced from their homes by the impacts of extreme weather, such as the floods in southern Africa this month or Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013.

According to human rights lawyer Walter Kälin, in the past six years some 160 million people have been displaced by sudden-onset disasters, 90 percent of them linked to weather events. But were they caused by climate change?

“No one can really say to what extent displacement disasters are climate-related compared with weather-related,” cautioned Kälin, an envoy for the Nansen Initiative, which is helping states figure out how to protect those displaced across borders by natural disasters.

Even when it comes to people who move because of droughts or encroaching seas, “you still shouldn’t forget about the human factor”, Kälin told an online seminar on the issue of climate change and displacement this week.

“You have to look at all the causes, and not jump to the conclusion that climate change increases displacement,” he added.

That’s not to say that experts don’t think it will. The problem is they’re still unsure about how it will happen, and what to do about it, given that poverty, conflict, ill-health and other stresses are often part of the puzzle.

Slow Steps

Nonetheless, efforts are underway to put together the jigsaw and find solutions.

The Nansen Initiative, for example, has been consulting governments on a regional basis, and plans to convene a global conference in October where states may adopt guidelines to protect people displaced internationally by disasters.

But, as University of Oxford professor Roger Zetter pointed out, “many would now throw up their hands in horror” at proposals made a few years ago for a new global convention on climate change refugees – which he described as “extremely problematic”.

And Foreign Policy magazine documents the so-far unsuccessful attempts by a Kiribati man and his lawyer to win him legal recognition as a climate change refugee in New Zealand.

So, with little prospect of national or international law coming to the rescue of those afflicted, what hope for help?

Humanitarian officials speaking at the seminar talked about the need for urgent assistance. “People want answers now,” said José Riera, an international protection specialist with the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR).

But the emergency aid system is already overburdened, and will not be able to meet the likely need for “billions and billions” of dollars to deal with the problem of climate-related displacement over time, he emphasised.

Strong arguments are being made for at least some of that money to come from the slowly growing global climate finance pot.

They run like this: Much climate-related displacement so far is happening inside poor countries, but their governments just don’t have the resources to deal with the problem. And the historical responsibility lies with industrialised parts of the world most blamed for climate change.

That in effect turns what might have been considered an apolitical humanitarian response to worsening drought in the Sahel region of West Africa, for example, into “a challenge of restorative justice to polluting countries”, Zetter noted.

That could open the door to objections from donor governments wary of being made to provide compensation – and to tussles over the thorny questions about cause and effect which remain tricky to answer.

“It is a huge, political global challenge,” warned Zetter.

This article is published in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation trust.org. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

Defining the future of agriculture

By Paul Bulcke

Published in World Economic Forum in January 2015

Achieving food and nutrition security today and for a world population that will number more than 9 billion and be 70% urbanised by 2050 is a key global challenge. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, current global trends in incomes, diets and population growth suggest that 60% more food will be needed in 2050. The evidence points to this being achievable, but there are some increasingly urgent pressure points in the system that must be addressed, including depleting water tables, climate change, inadequate infrastructure and reductions in land availability, largely as a result of soil degradation.

I am an optimist: I have seen how the global food system has transformed over time to respond to population growth and societal needs. In the last 150 years, changes in this system have enabled us to feed a population that has grown from just over 1 billion in 1850 to 2.2 billion in 1940 and 7.2 billion in 2013. Food production soared during this period while the supply of edible food to the consumer underwent significant technological and distributional advances.

But there are still huge challenges, most notably the persistence of hunger and the scale of food that is wasted. Post-harvest losses and waste account for up to 50% of total calories available from farm to fork. Nonetheless, I am confident that the required solutions to address the food and nutrition security challenge can be found.

Sustainable agriculture

The sustainable development of agriculture has to be a central pillar in this endeavour. All actors in the food value chain, starting with farmers, must be involved.

For its part, the food industry can play a significant role. After all, the industry depends for its very existence on the reliable and sustainable provision of high-quality agricultural raw materials. While not directly involved in agriculture per se, the Nestlé approach is to seek to provide a robust framework for farmer livelihood and community development. In this respect, the importance of generating higher and more reliable incomes for farmers, notably smallholder farmers, cannot be overemphasised. We need to ensure that farming remains attractive for the next generation and thus that it is a sustainable and profitable activity. We need likewise to ensure that the rural communities in which farmers live remain vibrant and provide the necessary opportunities for economic and social development. Investing in rural education and focusing on the creation of job opportunities for rural populations through, for example, a decentralised manufacturing strategy, are some key elements.

At the same time, we must not forget the broad framework that conditions the development of sustainable agriculture, be this at the national or the international level. At the national level, open markets, relevant education programmes, higher infrastructure investment and appropriate legal frameworks, such as land rights, are needed. At the international level, the global trade regime must be appropriately designed and aligned. The science of agriculture matters too and here we need an objective multistakeholder discussion to allow us to harness innovations and new technologies appropriately.

Working together to achieve food security

Finally, we must remember that there are several dimensions to food security. Producing the necessary quantity of food is just one; the quality of food, in terms of nutrition, matters greatly, as does affordability, access and safety, while sustainability must underlie all these. Nestlé sees this as the need to move towards an efficient nutrition system. The complexity involved necessarily implies trade-offs and the participation of all stakeholders is crucial to address these trade-offs in the best way possible. The development of sustainable agriculture for food and nutrition security will thus require that all actors in the food system come together.

Governments must take the lead in creating the enabling environment within which farmers and other actors can deliver. They must ensure that all policy areas, including trade, education, finance and health, are involved and aligned. Market-based approaches must be prioritised as the only proven way to ensure long-term viability. The private sector must focus on bringing in investment and developing new technologies and other innovations, as well as delivering greater efficiencies where possible. And farmers must be front and centre of the picture.

A new vision for agriculture

The kind of multistakeholder approach that is needed is exemplified in the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative. This is helping crystallise common goals and interests across all the actors in the agricultural space and driving the establishment of coherent and action-oriented partnerships and commitments that are already yielding results. In many ways, it is putting agriculture back on policy agendas as a priority issue. This is vital.

As I noted at the outset, I am an optimist. That said, the transformation that took place in the food system last century did not happen by itself; it was the result of human ingenuity, action and collaboration. It is thus incumbent on current leaders from government, industry and civil society, many of whom are this year’s Annual Meeting, to take a strategic and global perspective on food and nutrition security and start putting the building blocks in place that will enable the global food system to sustainably meet society’s requirements in 2050.

Environmental sustainability and agriculture can go hand in hand

By Michael Mack

Published in World Economic Forum in October 2012

To feed 9 billion people by 2050, we will have to feed 80 million more people every single year until then. How can we deliver this level of food security to the world without exhausting the planet’s natural resources?

This tension between food production and nature has only recently started to bring business, governments and NGOs together in more productive ways than ever before.  What historically has been combative is now becoming collaborative. I saw this firsthand at one of the world’s most respected environmental conservation events, the IUCN Global Leaders Dialogue in Korea last month. I may have surprised some listeners when I shared my view that sustainable intensification of agriculture should be about shrinking the size of the farm, making it more productive, getting more out of the resources and inputs we use, and growing more from less.

This is nowhere more true than in Africa, where investment in agriculture knowledge and technology can play a transformational role in reducing poverty. As President Kikwete of Tanzania pointed out at the African Green Revolution Foundation Forum a few weeks ago, business can be a catalyst for productivity and sustainability.  I believe that whole-heartedly, but I also know that business can’t do it alone.  Business can be a partner in achieving Africa’s agricultural aspirations, but we will need to work closely with governments, farmers, civil society and others to succeed.

One new initiative, Grow Africa, is helping facilitate that approach. This African-led, globally-supported platform was established to help develop public-private partnerships to attract investment in support of national agriculture strategies. Convened by the African Union, NEPAD and the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative, Grow Africa is helping to match investors with Africa’s own priorities for agricultural growth through a transparent, multi-stakeholder platform.

Because of this fresh approach to collaboration, Africa has now become one ofSyngenta’s strategic growth regions.  Our aim is to develop a $1 billion business by 2022, with some 700 employees—many of whom will be field advisors trained in agronomy—to bring innovative and sustainable methods to more than five million African farmers, enabling them to increase their productivity by 50% or more. This will benefit farmers and the environment, while also providing a sustainable business model.

Business, governments and NGOs working together can become one of the most important factors in scaling up good farming practices in Africa to meet food securityplus  nature conservation goals.  The greater the productivity of the world’s farms, the greater our chance of sustainably feeding 9 billion people.

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