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‘Worldwide food losses and waste amount to 30-40 per cent of total production’

Deepanwita Niyogi  

On the occasion of World Food Day, Rob Vos, strategic programme leader in FAO’s economic and social affairs division, talks about sustainabale agriculture and food wastage

To engage more youth, agriculture has to be made more attractive and remunerative
Credit: Flickr
To engage more youth, agriculture has to be made more attractive and remunerative Credit: Flickr

What is the best way to engage youth—the Zero Hunger generation—to combat poverty and hunger in view of the SDGs’ agenda?

To engage more youth, agriculture has to be made more attractive and remunerative. Sustainable agriculture provides many such opportunities. For instance, in a project in Tanzania, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) supported young farmers to form a cooperative, gain access to a collective piece of land and credits to start a business of organic vegetable farming, which catered to locals as well as the high-end tourism sector.

The business was profitable overnight and could be made to serve their needs and aspirations. To make these kinds of initiatives happen, hurdles need to be removed for young people. It will take skills training, as much as changing policy and regulatory frameworks, to lift barriers faced by the (youth) in accessing land, credits and inputs.

(Also), private sector agents need to be open to do business with young farmers. The big challenge is to scale-up such initiatives. In Africa alone, about 11 million young people enter the rural labour market every year. Non-agricultural sectors start from a too-small basis to be the main absorber of new workers for years to come. Hence, agriculture will have to play a big role and, as indicated, it has the potential.

One of the goals of Expo Milano is equal access to natural resources and sustainability. Is it possible for all to have equal access when development itself is so lopsided? Please comment.

This objective is about equal opportunities. Access to land and water for farm production is highly unequal. Even worse, some are even restricted by laws to have any access, such as women farmers, who, in still too many contexts, have no right to own lands. (They), in turn, also fail to access other critical inputs (seeds, credits and so on) to make the farms they manage productive, climb out of poverty and contribute to overall food security.

Not creating equal opportunities is also more likely to continue the present practice of environmentally-unsustainable use of resources. In the end, this will be socially and economically unsustainable as well. This is the spirit behind this objective.

A report by Down To Earth says that there is huge food wastage in the US. What do you think is responsible for such wastage and what are the ways to reduce it?

Worldwide food losses and waste amount to 30-40 per cent of total production. It is important to distinguish between food losses and waste. We talk about food losses during harvest and post-harvest distribution and processing of food. Most of this happens in developing countries, because when prices are low, many farmers can’t afford to hire sufficient labour to harvest all produce, or food gets lost because of lack of adequate storage space or transportation, or because farmers lack access to markets (either fresh on the market or to food processing industries).

In richer countries more food is wasted during the process of consumption. Part of this may be inevitable as households or restaurants may not always be able to plan exactly how much food to buy. Most of the waste, however, is evitable with—inter alia—greater consciousness about food habits and the cost of waste (both by consumers and the food industry) and better food conservation practices.

What are FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) doing to achieve food security? Besides poverty, climate shocks play a defining role in determining global foodgrain production. What are the ways to ensure that the poor receive food in case of famine and drought?

FAO has a two-pronged approach to food security. On one hand, it supports countries both in creating the conditions and spreading the knowledge to enhance food production and improve diversity, quality and safety of available food. On the other hand, it works to improve access and utilisation of food.

Social protection is the main theme of the World Food Day this year. As said, having social protection mechanisms in place people can cope with many shocks. Where shocks are very large, we work with WFP and other partners to support countries set up emergency programmes to prevent famines. Such responses may consist of food distribution programmes, and cash transfers or other means.

It is important that such emergency responses are combined with reliance-building programmes, so that people will be able to manage the risks of droughts, floods or other shocks better by themselves.

Sub-Saharan Africa is marked by erratic weather, unreliable food access and undernourishment. How is it possible to ensure food security in this region all year-round?

Sub-Saharan Africa faces the biggest challenges, but it also has huge potential. It is the region where the land frontier has not yet been fully reached, and where there is a huge army of young people who can reinvigorate agriculture. A dynamic agriculture would support strong overall income growth and give a major push to achieving food security within decades. But this potential is unlikely to be tapped into if not many structural hurdles are overcome.

There are enormous infrastructure bottlenecks, water scarcity, lack of access to inputs, credits, technology and resources for many farmers.

Adoption of sustainable agricultural practices (which includes climate-smart agriculture) can also help production become less vulnerable to diseases, droughts, or floods, thereby ensuring higher and more stable food supply, as much as generating better incomes for many of the region’s poor households.

Developing countries are spending more of their income on food than developed countries while also suffering high rates of malnutrition. In what way can this gap be bridged?

This is a normal phenomenon. Poor people spend more on basic needs, of which food is the first. So, as a share of income people in poor countries spend more, but in absolute terms richer households spend more.

Bridging the gap would start by lifting incomes of the poor and, all other things being equal, reducing inequality. It is not the only thing that matters to eliminate malnutrition, but it is one important factor.–51506

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Comment (1)


    As rightly expressed, food wastage is a major problem. While hunger is on the rise, food grains are rotting in government where houses. The African condition is still worse. The world food day is a proper time to think of the poor and the hungry.

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