Food systems transformation- how we deal with food loss and waste – Nicole Junkermann

Women in Food & Agriculture Industry Digital Festival

“Healthy people, healthy planet and healthy economy”

I recently attended the Women in Food & Agriculture Industry Digital Festival. I heard from Geeta Sethi, Advisor and Global Lead for Food Systems at the World Bank. 

She gave a fascinating talk discussing our food systems and the urgent challenge we face of transforming them. Given she has previously worked on both the food loss and waste agenda as well as the transformation of food systems challenge, she was able to give some very fascinating perspectives on this topic. She identified the “triple goals” we should all have in mind when discussing our food systems: healthy people, healthy planet and healthy economy. 

Globally today it is a very sobering picture, with food insecurity is on the rise in many countries. It is most acute in countries experiencing conflict and climate impacts, but hunger is growing in rural and urban areas, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is likely this will only get worse before it gets better. The effects of poverty forcing families to cut back on nutrition cannot be underestimated; human capital is compromised, progress for the next generation slows and governments can lose legitimacy in the eyes of the people risking instability and violence.  Current food production is also the single largest driver of environmental degradation. If food production continues “business as usual”, it will contribute 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

Covid-19 exposed long-standing problems in the global food system; healthy diets are too expensive for more than 3 billion people worldwide. Food safety can be a problem in some places around the world; foodborne diseases cause 600 million illnesses each year. Pollution and biodiversity loss as a result of food production is common, and food producers are amongst some of the poorest social groups in many countries. This is why it is so vital to change food production systems. If done well, food loss and waste interventions can increase food and nutrition security, , reduce the resulting strain on healthcare systems, reduce the environmental footprint of food systems and improve the welfare of both producers and consumers.

While food insecurity is growing, about one-third of food is wasted- it is produced but never reaches a table. If food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd highest emitter. Food loss and waste use 5% of the worlds fresh water and arable land the size of China. Whilst a large problem, food loss and waste could be a large part of the solution. Some estimates suggest that almost 25% of food requirements in the future could be managed by addressing food waste. It could be vital to reaching the goals of healthy people, healthy planet and a healthy economy. This is something I find so thought-provoking, and I look forward to what other insight I can gain from the rest of the digital festival.