The Complexities of Achieving a Sustainable Food System: Balancing Food Waste Reduction and Increased Production
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), around one-third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted every year, with a value of roughly $USD 1 trillion.2 Accordingly, reducing food waste is often touted as an important step towards achieving a more sustainable food system. However, solving for food waste, i.e. engineering for the reverse supply chain problem, poses a significant challenge, in particular for foods with a shelf life.
Moreover, the food waste challenge is not uniform. In developed countries, most food waste occurs at the consumption end of the supply chain, with households and food service providers responsible for the majority of wasted food. In contrast, in developing countries, food waste typically occurs at the production end of the supply chain, due to poor infrastructure, inadequate storage facilities and inefficient supply chains.
As such, we cannot solve for the food waste challenge as an isolated endeavour. We need to produce more food to feed the world’s poor. According to the World Bank, global food production must increase by 70% by 2050 to meet the needs of a growing population.3 This is a significant challenge, given that agricultural productivity growth has been slowing in recent years. Increasing agricultural productivity will require investments in R&D (including research into improving crop yields and developing new farming techniques) and greater access to resources like land, water and finance.
Another key challenge in achieving a sustainable food system is ensuring that food is produced and distributed in an equitable way. According to the FAO, around 670 million people worldwide are hungry, with the majority living in developing countries.4 While increasing food production is important for addressing global hunger, it must be done in a way that prioritises the needs of the poor and vulnerable. This may require policies and investments that promote smallholder agriculture, improve access to markets and finance, and support the development of sustainable and resilient food systems.