That one-third of the food produced annually for human consumption is wasted is in itself unconscionable in a world where 870 million, or one in eight people, go hungry every day. A United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation report now says that this high volume of wastage that occurs right through the food supply chain exerts an adverse impact on land, water, biodiversity and climate change. This impact is in addition to the green house gas emissions that are known to result from current patterns of food production, processing, marketing and consumption associated with global commercial flows. The report focuses on factors that contribute to the decrease in mass and nutritional value of food caused by poor infrastructure, logistics and technology. It also sheds light on multiple costs from food wastage that result from natural disasters, excessive supply, distributional bottlenecks and eating habits of consumers. In Asia, the already high carbon footprint from the cultivation of cereals is compounded by huge volumes of wastage owing to inadequate storage facilities. The carbon footprint of wasted meat in high income regions is to the extent of 67 per cent. Not to mention losses from perishables such as fruit and vegetables. Cumulatively, food ranks as the third emitter after the United States and China. Moreover, food that is produced, but not eaten, occupies close to 30 per cent of the world’s agricultural land, says the report. Such an extremely unproductive use of land is hard even to contemplate given the current scramble for fertile and wet lands in Africa and parts of Asia. Multinational corporations that have resorted to such means to shore up food grain supplies in the aftermath of the global food crisis have encountered hostile resistance from native populations.
Clearly, the judicious use of available food ought to be a critical global priority. This is especially the case since studies have estimated that agricultural output would have to increase by 60 per cent by 2050 to cope with the demands of a growing population. The world is still reeling under the combined impact of the recent rise in food grain prices, commodity speculation and the havoc from freak weather patterns. Rich nations must endeavour to mitigate further economic and environmental cost through aggressive deployment of scientific know-how and technology transfers to poor countries. Under-nourishment and hunger remain the biggest risks to health today, greater than malaria, HIV-AIDS and tuberculosis combined. As with these diseases, they too can be tackled with the requisite means and, above all, political will. The time is now.