Urbanization and Food Waste

The Lempert Report
October 27, 2015

With urbanization on the rise, a closer look at food waste is required.

According to a report from the McKinsey Global Institute, between 2010 and 2025 one billion people earning more than $10 a day will move from rural areas into a city. As urbanization continues to increase researchers are spending their time looking into how the global food system will meet this growing food demand sustainably.

While the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations projects that global food production needs to increase by 40 percent by 2030 and 70 percent by 2050, it's been estimated that 30 percent of global production is lost or wasted annually. 

As we discuss frequently, a lot of food waste occurs at the retail and consumer level, but also in low and middle income countries food waste often occurs more at the production and distribution level. A recent article in the Huffington Post explores the idea that one way to reduce food waste is to implement cold chains, a temperature controlled supply chain or rather, an uninterrupted series of storage and distribution models which maintain a given temperature range. These are often lacking or inefficient in low and middle income countries, but cold chains could contribute significantly to ensuring less food is wasted and more consumers, including low income households, are able to access diverse and nutritious foods.

The Huffington Post notes that, annually, 200 million tonnes of perishable foods could be saved if low income countries had the same level of cold chain technology and capacity as in high income countries. Toby Peters, Visiting Professor at the University of Birmingham argues specifically for "green" cold chains, he's quoted in The Huffington Post as saying, "what is needed is a paradigm shift to zero-emission, clean and cold technologies to transport food, while retaining its nutritional and economic value. We have to keep food-moving but we must not create an environmental disaster to prevent a social crisis".

With urbanization on the rise, globally and nationally the time has come for
policies to address cooling systems and post-harvest loss. The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) has created the Nutrient Capture Facility in order to encourage action on the issue of post-harvest loss. And at the local level, supermarkets should be continuing to education consumers on not only their own food waste but on the kinds of policies that should be put into effect on a larger scale. From local shoppers to global policies, everyone needs to be educated and to do their part, to ensure less food is wasted and to ensure people gain access to healthy nutrient rich foods.