Food Waste: Around the World on a Fingertip.


I have talked at length about the absolute scandal that food waste is and sadly continues to be; yet I remain an optimist.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man Epistle 1

Things are on the move in various parts of the world. In Africa, the United Nations (UN) has several initiatives in operation: in Gambia, a new policy of one-village-one-product is helping to eliminate waste at the farm level. Each village in the scheme produces a crop to sell at the local market where other villages bring their main crop. How this develops will be interesting and to determine if it can be sustained in the long-term. Nonetheless it is a positive start and brings a consciousness of avoiding waste to the forefront of local thinking.

A novel approach to cattle farming is being experimented with in Kisii in the western highlands of Kenya. Here the UN has introduced insecticide treated mosquito nets and results are quite promising. The cattle have to be corralled and the netting placed around the pen at ground level and up to 1 metre high. Apparently, the little culprits, the Tsetse fly, swoon in at low level to attack their prey. (Didn’t know that.) The benefit is twofold: firstly, the milk yield has doubled and in places tripled. Secondly, illness among the farmers has been significantly reduced.

As the Tsetse fly, kills millions of animals in sub-Sahara Africa with a disease, the human equivalent of ‘sleeping sickness’ the netting could prove a considered step forward. The saving of the animal and the resultant milk supply could stave off possible hunger. The downside is that the animals must be corralled for the system to be effective and of course, that means they need to be fed.

I have mentioned New Zealand previously where it is claimed that 60% of households do some composting rather than sending their waste to landfill. All sounds really positive but I would like to know whether the composting is inclusive to rural areas or is also a main function of the urban areas too. Composting is something that we should all consider.

The story in Europe Union (EU) is likewise upbeat in that the EU has set member states a target to reduce biodegradable waste or face monetary penalties. An example is Britain which has adopted the ‘landfill directive’ by which it has to reduce biodegradable waste to 35% of what it was in 1995. A stiff challenge but the government reckon they can achieve it. Cross fingers.

In the United Kingdom (UK) the new Conservative government has followed, and given fresh impetus to an initiative of the previous Labour Government, to push ahead with ‘anaerobic digestion’(AD). The government view AD as the strongest contender to advance a zero policy on biodegradable waste. Two other considerations, composting and incineration while helpful do not have the added benefits that could accrue from AD, e.g. biogas and a perfectly good fertilizer. The latter could also reduce the farmers’ dependence on chemical fertilizer. (Bonus) According to their website AD, “…offers the greatest environmental benefit.”

There are several initiatives in America with individual states, Omaha, and major cities such as San Francisco, making headway with their own plans. However, the one that caught my eye was Austin Texas, where the city council in collaboration with local business and local media has designated 2013 the ‘Year of Food Waste and Prevention’. Now that is serious thinking and very serious initiative taking. It would appear that Austin means business-all power to their efforts. Imagine if other major cities, the size of London, Sydney, Bangkok (Krung Thep), Beijing, followed Austin’s lead the publicity to take action against food waste would be immense.

Check out:

Wherever there is a positive side there is usually a negative right opposite it, and yes, there are still a few bugbears to sort out. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, point out some interesting facts: one hectare (2.5 acres approx.) of land used to produce rice or potatoes would feed between 19/22 people annually. The same land given over to animal farming would feed two people. Is this a case for vegetarians’? Perhaps, when we add that meat production requires 50% more water than vegetables.

1501_09_4_thumb[1]Furthermore, they suggest that 40% of the world’s food supply is derived from irrigated land. However, they say that such use of the land is unsustainable due to the fact that the water supply is poorly sourced. The use of the flood method and/or the overhead spray is wasteful due to loss through evaporation. The most condemning aspect of their findings stems from the fact that much of the water used in irrigation farming comes from sinking ‘boreholes’ into poorly managed aquifers.

“In some cases government programmes and international aid interventions exacerbate this problem.”


I find it difficult to comprehend the logic of such developments, especially the use of international aid in such circumstances. It is of course the blight of short-termism. The narrow vision that uses ‘aid’ money for a quick fix leads down a blind alley and can end up costing more to rectify. Solving the immediate problem is not always the expedient thing to do.

Water is a scarce resource and must be treated as such by everyone. Therefore, the proposal by ‘imeche’ should even now be adopted to replace the flood method and the spray method by the drip or trickle method. While the installation of the drip/trickle method will prove more expensive the cost will be offset by the 33% saving on water used in these areas. Sustainability, I have heard the cry so often and yet when it comes right down to it those in a position to lead fail.

Another important point raised by the ‘imeche’ report is the amount of energy used to produce our food. I was surprised to read that between 3-5% of the world’s natural gas supply was being used to produce fertilizer. A further eye-catching piece of information was that over 3% of ‘annual global energy consumption’ is used in food production from the humble tractor, to harvest, storage, distribution and processing. How many trucks drive on our roads carrying foodstuffs to various locations?

We force the cost of living up by the sheer volume of our waste. A new approach to food production through to consumption is needed. For too long we have frittered away our energy, our resources, and people’s lives in an arbitrary fashion simply because it was convenient to do so. Has me, ‘moi’, and ‘mich’ and ‘a mi’, finally taken over our thought processes to the extent that we are blind to the needs of others? Are we blasé about the ozone layer, and thoughtless towards animal welfare? Lemmings come to mind!

Folks need to pay more attention to the philosophy of Bob Marley:

Get up, stand upthCAAXUSTO

Stand up for your rights

Get up, stand up

Never give up the fight.


Food waste is too important an issue to ignore; take Bob Marley’s words to heart.