By Stella Paul
Since Tsering Dorji, a farmer from Satsam village in Bhutan, started growing organic vegetables four years ago, the fertility of the soil and the yield on his farm have improved considerably, thanks to organic compost and pesticides.
Dorji, 27, now produces about 60 bags of surplus food every two months for sale. But when the rainy season rolls around, he still loses tens of dollars when he has to transport his produce to markets miles away.
“Vegetables like radish, carrot and cucumber break frequently and tomatoes are crushed when transported. So I have to sell them (at the discounted price) for Rs 5-10 per kilo or just throw them away. It is a very difficult time for me, ”he stressed in a dialogue with IPS.
Your case is not the only one. Worldwide, but especially in developing countries, food loss and waste cost farmers $ 940 billion per year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
However, the picture could change in the coming years thanks to a new global mechanism called the Accounting and Reporting Standard on Food Loss and Waste, presented at the fourth Global Green Growth Forum, a conference held in Copenhagen on 6 days. and 7 of this month.
The initiative is a protocol that aims to document the extent and reasons for food loss and waste around the world.
The conference, which brought together governments, investors, companies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and research centers, called the protocol a "breakthrough".
The new standard “will reduce economic losses for the consumer and the food industry, relieve pressure on natural resources and contribute to the achievement of the ambitious targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said Christian Jensen, Minister of Foreign Relations of Denmark, in the presentation of the protocol.
The standard was developed jointly by the Consumer Goods Forum, FAO, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the World Resources Institute.
Although specific guidelines on how the standard will tell countries and companies how to measure food waste are still in the works, the protocol includes three elements.
First, the standard includes different definitions of food waste that change depending on what the ultimate goal of an entity is. Thus, if a country wishes to limit the problem to combat food insecurity, that definition will differ from that of the country that intends to stop this waste in order to deal with climate change.
Second, the standard includes various quantification options, which will allow a country or company with limited financial and technical resources to obtain an overview of its food loss and waste.
And finally, the standard is intended to be flexible enough to evolve over time, as understanding of food waste, quantification methods and existing data improve.
Sustainable Development Goal 12.3
Food loss and waste have significant economic, social and environmental consequences. According to the FAO, a third of the food produced in the world is lost when transported from the place where it is produced to the place where it is consumed, although 800 million people are still undernourished on the planet.
In short, food loss and waste exacerbate hunger. They also consume about a quarter of the water used for agriculture and use growing areas the size of China, in addition to generating eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Goal 12.3 of the SDGs aims to cut per capita food waste in half and limit food losses by 2030.
The protocol would not only help us understand how much food "does not reach our mouths, it will help set a baseline for action," said Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director.
The mechanism also piqued the interest of the world's largest food company, Nestlé.
“What is measured can be managed. At Nestlé we will undoubtedly benefit significantly by using the standard to help us address our own food loss and waste, ”said Michiel Kernkamp, Nordic Market Director for the multinational firm.
Benefits for the poorest producers
Can the protocol benefit the smallest and poorest producers in developing countries, who lack modern technology, innovation and stable financing, and who are surrounded by multiple climate vulnerability factors, such as floods, droughts, salinity? and other natural disasters?
“Yes,” says Khalid Bomba, director general of the Ethiopian Agrarian Transformation Agency.
The protocol, by identifying pockets of food loss, can highlight areas that need urgent intervention, he added.
"Food losses happen for a number of reasons, such as a lack of innovative tools, improved seeds, market opportunities, and climate change. The new protocol can be a tool to find out how many losses occur due to each of these reasons, ”he explained.
“Once the data is collected, it can be shared with NGOs and business communities. Consequently, they can decide how and where they want to intervene and what solutions they want to apply, ”added Bomba.
However, the official cautions that the protocol should not be confused with a solution. “This protocol by itself will not end food losses. It is only a tool to better understand the problem and find the right solution ”, he specified.
Translated by Álvaro Queiruga
Photo: Tsering Dorji works on his farm in the village of Satsam, Bhutan. Credit: Stella Paul / IPS