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Extra Efforts Needed to Save More Food

29 December 2014

CHINA - Approximately half of the 72.5 million tonnes of food imported China between January and October this year was lost because of poor storage and transportation methods.

These food losses and waste bring with them high economic costs simply because of spoilage and inefficient use of resources, while at the same time they help to contribute to hunger and malnutrition.

While the exact amount of food loss and waste in China is unknown, a study has shown that roughly 19 per cent of grains produced in the country is lost or wasted.

For perishable foods such as vegetables and fruits, the percentage of loss and waste could be even higher, according to market analysts.

Annually, about $32 billion worth of food, which could feed 200 million people a year is lost, according to China's State Administration of Grain.

This waste and loss of food is taking place at a time when China still has 150 million hungry people to feed.

Child under-nutrition is still a big challenge for China, nearly 10 per cent of the country's children are stunted (a bellwether of under-nutrition that results in debilitated physical and cognitive growth), according to Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Food loss and waste put pressure on the country's agriculture system that has to feed 21 percent of the world's population with only six per cent of its freshwater and nine per cent of arable land, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

“In China, agriculture is often the most intensive user of scarce resources and a main contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” says Shenggen Fan.

“For example, agriculture is responsible for about 70 per cent of China's water use, and under a business-as - usual trajectory, the country could face a 25 per cent water supply gap by 2030. And accounting for 20 per cent of the country's total GHG emissions, China's agriculture sector emits more GHGs than any other agriculture system in the world.

“So, how can China reduce food loss and waste? Through a comprehensive approach.

“The "Clean Your Plate" campaign, which encourages Chinese people to save food in order to reduce wastage of food, is laudable. But more needs to be done.”

In China, more food is lost in the processing and storage stages than at the retail or consumption level.

China can tackle the challenge of food loss and waste by investing in food-preservation technologies and infrastructure, changing policies and promoting greater consumer knowledge about food wastage.

Increased investment in production technology, infrastructure and post-harvest handling should reduce post-harvest losses.

China loses 27.5 million tonnes of food a year because of poor storage and transportation.

Major grain producing regions lack sufficient storage infrastructure, which not only exacerbates food losses, but limits farmers' incomes.

The use of cold storage facilities in India and Bangladesh, for example, has increased potato prices for farmers during the off-season and reduced food losses.

Shenggen Fan said that policies to promote the right prices of foods and natural resources that reflect the true cost to the environment and climate are an important step toward encouraging sustainable production and consumption practices.

For a more efficient food system in China, subsidies that promote overuse of natural resources and increase carbon emissions should be phased out.

Savings from the elimination of such subsidies should be re-prioritized toward high-return investments - production of more nutrient crops such as fruits and vegetables and enhancement of the whole supply chain to minimise losses and wastes.

“The removal of such subsidies, however, may cause food prices to increase with negative implications for poor producers and consumers. In such situations, strong social safety nets must be put in place to protect the poor” says Shenggen Fan.

“As for food waste, it is important to continue to educate consumers on good consumption habits through campaigns such as "Clean Your Plate".

“Changing behaviours and culture regarding food waste at the dining table, particularly in restaurants, is important.

“But more importantly, consumers should be made aware of the best practices in safe food storage, package dating, and household as well as societal benefits of reducing food waste.

“And retailers should be discouraged from wasting food by following unnecessary standards for the colour, shape and size of fruits and vegetables.”

TheMeatSite News Desk

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