This week the World Bank has been highlighting the problem of food waste, reinforcing previous findings that between a quarter and a third of the world’s food is lost or wasted.
I’ve written about this before, pointing out that this happens in developing countries as well as overconsuming Western ones. The World Bank report gives us a breakdown between the two, which I’ve not seen before.
In deciding which part of the world has a bigger problem, bear in mind that roughly one in seven of the world’s people live in developed countries.
The report also gives us a helpful distinction between food that is ‘lost’ and food that is ‘wasted’.
Food loss is the bigger problem in developing countries, and “typically occurs at the production, storage, processing, distribution, and marketing stages of the food value chain. It is the unintended result of technical limitations or poor infrastructure.”
Food waste on the other hand, “typically takes place at the retail and consumption stages of the food value chain, the result of a conscious decision to throw food away.”
As the graph above shows, the problem is very different in different parts of the world. Americans waste an astonishing 42% of total food, and the majority of that is people wilfully throwing it away. Food waste is an affluence problem. The report points out that higher income households throw more away, with American families binning an average of $1,600 worth of food every year.
Sub-Saharan Africans on the other hand throw very little away, but lose far more at the production and handling stages, never getting the food to market in the first place. Food loss is a poverty problem, down to bumpy roads and inadequate storage facilities rather than consumer behaviour.
In a world in which hundreds of millions continue to experience hunger, and that faces rising challenges from climate change and a growing population, it is vital that we fix both sides of this problem.