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January 2020

Global Causes Behind Food Waste

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Where there are people, there is food; where there is food, food is wasted. The whole world wastes over 1 billion tonnes of food per year, which translates to 1 trillion USD – if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest country in the world. In fact, the responsibility of such wastage is shared between more developed countries (MDCs) and less developed countries (LDCs).

More Developed Countries (MDCs): over-production of food

            In places like the United States and the European Union, favorable government policies and subsidies make the internal food market impenetrable by foreign imports, thus lowering competition faced by the local agricultural sector. This encourages farmers to grow more crops – ultimately to the amount of excess.

           The excess food grown by MDCs is often thrown away. More than that, the deluge of food produced drags down food prices, stimulating consumers to over-purchase – humans have a natural inclination to buy cheap stuff despite knowing they won’t use them, in case you haven’t noticed. As a result, more food is discarded. However, not all of the excess food ends up in the trash: some of it will be exported to other countries. For instance, the US attains $133 billion in revenue from exporting foods and feeds.

Less Developed Countries (LDCs): poor packaging, poor cold chain, poor distribution

           And to whom do MDCs sell their excess produce? LDCs; Malaysia is no exception.  Since excess food in MDCs is sold to LDCs, it seems all and well and food waste would be reduced, right? Think again.

        The influx of imported foodstuff stimulates local farmers to increase production to compete with the imports, in an effort to maximize income. Malaysian farmers growing more crops – such as rice, coconut, and durian – inevitably lead to more crops being wasted, including overproduced vegetables.

        Besides more crops being discarded from being unsold, a large portion of food products never make it from farm to table. For instance, the cold chain – making sure foods are appropriately refrigerated during transport and storage – is hindered by the lack of technology, poor infrastructure, and inefficient transport in LDCs, causing food spoilage before products arrive before the customer’s eyes.

        Poor packaging of food also shortens the shelf life of food. According to the Boston Consultant Group (BCG) found that the shelf life of strawberries can increase by half with better packaging.

Strawberries Thrive in Cameron Highlands

        Moreover, the lack of effective channels to distribute surplus food to those who need it doesn’t help the food waste problem. Thankfully, changes are being made on this front. Food Bank Malaysia, a government initiative, has saved 1055 tonnes of surplus food and benefited 45,850 households; it has also set up the first national food bank, located in Penang. Aside from government action, the NGO sector has been hard at work to improve the allocation of surplus food as well. For instance, Grub Cycle sells surplus fruits and vegetables from supermarkets at a discounted price to underprivileged communities.

Pasar Grub: Providing Affordable Produce to the Low Income Community

        On a global scale, MDCs should transfer their technology and knowledge to LDCs to reduce food loss in the food production process in LDCs. Nevertheless, extensive effort by NGOs and the government are not enough to make a difference – the key to change lies in the hands of the people. Grocers must support Food Banks and enterprises like Grub Cycle; consumers must actively purchase surplus food; people must realize that surplus food is perfectly edible and buying it has remarkable environmental benefits. 

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Jasper & Sharyn