Towards a More Sustainable Global Food System

  • 2 June 2015

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates, 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted all over the world every year due to wasteful consumption practices. This is a staggering indicator that cannot be ignored. The amount of food wasted is one third of the annual world food production and is worth around $1 trillion, i.e. 1.3 percent of the global GDP. This almost equals the GDP of Mexico, which ranks 15th among the world’s largest economies. It is also equivalent to the combined GDP of 96 poorest countries in the world. Other similar indicators point to the various dimensions of this problem. In essence, this is one of the most serious development challenges facing the world today, which is significant for the following reasons.

First, food waste mainly takes place in advanced countries. According to World Bank data, the volume of food loss and waste in these countries is threefold compared to poor countries. What makes things even worse is that developed countries waste food mainly due to bad consumption practices, i.e. consumer behavior. On the other hand, food waste in poor countries occurs during the various stages of processing and distribution, for which government and business sectors are responsible. Therefore, individuals in poor countries have no role in wastage although they are affected the most by it.

Second, FAO indicators suggest that the least developed countries – mainly in Asia and the Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America – are the hardest hit by food shortage, famines and malnutrition. Around 842 million people of those who suffer from hunger across the world live in these parts of the world. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute data, this number constitutes 10-30 percent of population of these countries. Also, about 25 percent of children under the age of five in these countries suffer from malnutrition and stunted growth.

Third, these figures are likely to rise steadily over the coming decades considering a number of important factors such as expected world population growth, which is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050. This will mean an increase of about two billion people compared to the present figure. Also significant is the increased economic growth and improvement of living standards in emerging economies, especially China and India, as well as more and more migration to urban areas around the world. As a result, urban population is expected to increase to more than a third of total world population by 2050.

Fourth, with global food policies remaining unchanged, the demand for food is likely to increase by about 70 percent by mid-century while its wastage, due to bad consumption practices, is expected to quintuple. This will not only worsen the situation of the poor in underdeveloped countries but will also increase pressure on natural resources thereby fuelling conflicts. Environment pollution, desertification, pandemics and famines will also increase as a result. Given these facts, there is urgent need for a more effective global response to formulate sustainable food system, which enhances production, rationalizes consumption, and builds a more balanced dietary pattern.