Exploring food loss and waste in the context of food insecurity -Newsday Zimbabwe

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File Photo: A man holding cereal

The most commonly used term for food loss is post-harvest food loss, despite its shortcomings in addressing unsustainable practices such as food waste. Concentrating and highlighting food losses to the detriment of wastage, which is voluntary, requires circumscribing and situating post-harvest as an event rather than a process.

Usually, there is a chain of activities involved in food production processes, from start to finish, namely transportation from source to processing plants, including a variety of retail networks. Normally people, as the most important stakeholders in this chain of events, are either bribed by the print or broadcast media, or informed, lectured and even prescribed. This happens when the food delivered to households has received the least coverage, but it has a lot to do with human behavior and attitudes that demand the label.

In other words, food waste at the household level is rather tolerated and may not concern anyone. Food waste is not only inherent in communities that are food secure, but it is also found in communities that lack food security. This statement may seem paradoxical and many may wonder, how on earth can a starving society waste food? This currently happens consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, which is why the affected communities have considered it normal. One sometimes hears individuals or small farmers or horticulturists lamenting the flooded market with foodstuffs. What happens when the market becomes more flooded? Responsible communities choose to watch tomatoes, vegetables, fruits, and more degrade and eventually rot.

Post-harvest losses can be thought of as covering the entire process involved, but nobody seems to worry about what happens when food is purchased, stored and consumed in various households. What happens in households when families fail to manage the leftovers and decide to throw the food away, can this be called food waste, even though it can be challenged or masked. Large quantities of leftover food at the household level are not only unfair to those who are starving and cannot afford it, but have a direct impact on the environment.

In this context, food loss and waste contribute to the loss and degradation of livelihoods and recovery. Food loss and waste should not be seen in isolation but should be contextualized in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Communities need lenses that allow them to visualize food loss and waste especially the SDGs among others. These are SDG1 (no poverty), SDG2 (zero hunger), SDG3 (good health and well-being), SDG12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG15 (life on land), all in the context of SDG13 (climate action). All of these SDGs combined would ensure food security and tighten the screws on food loss and voluntary food waste. Storing and preserving food at the household level is paramount, life-saving and an essential pillar of livelihood practices and building resilience.

If communities intend to grow food and their main objective is to sell, they should do market research to place the intended product in the market. If they are content to grow without undertaking market research, they will have to endure the agonizing experience of watching their food stocks deteriorate and wither day by day. If one buys food or grows food for consumption, it is necessary to adhere to the “empty and clean plate principle”, where one should eat what they are supposed to finish so that leftovers are minimized at all costs and food does not end up in the trash.

These practices help address food neglect, careless handling, and consumer injustices that have contributed to critical food shortages and irresponsible food handling, especially in communities overwhelmed by food insecurity. For those dependent on buying processed foods, the FAO estimates that around 14% of food is lost before it reaches retail and consumption levels, but for the majority who grow their own food, it is lost and wasted when there is no buyer, market behavior or responsible consumption.

It is important in this regard to practice adding value by preserving food using traditional methods or by integrating traditional methods with current advances and technological pathways, in order to avoid loss and waste. Mitigating dietary habits is not only good for food value chains, but also for human health, avoiding obesity, careless consumption patterns while adding toxins to the environment.

Wasted food will end up in landfills and other disposal sites, thereby emitting unwanted greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Although these commodities were purchased with personal money, it is also important to spare a thought for the hungry and starving in our vulnerable communities.

Every individual in one way or another in their lifetime has wasted food voluntarily and unintentionally, so it is in the best interest of best food handling practices that we value others in need by valuing the food we keep.

Wasted food will end up in landfills and other disposal sites, thereby emitting unwanted greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Although these commodities were purchased with personal money, it is also important to spare a thought for the hungry and starving in our vulnerable communities.

Every individual in one way or another in their lifetime has wasted food voluntarily and unintentionally, so it is in the best interest of best food handling practices that we value others in need by valuing the food we keep.

Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in a personal capacity and can be contacted at: [email protected]

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