PH food wastage: Think twice before wasting your meal

Fritzie Rodriguez
There is enough food in the world for everyone, but one-third of all food is wasted globally

FOOD LOSS. Among developing countries like the Philippines, food loss occurs even before consumption. Food is already lost during the production and postharvest stages. Photo by Romeo Gacad/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – There is enough food in the world for everyone, according to the World Food Programme. Yet one-third of all food is wasted globally.

Over 1.3 billion tons of food is lost each year, the latest findings of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) from 2011 showed.

Dr Liza Bordey of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PRRI) and Hazel Antonio, director of the National Year of the Rice 2013 campaign, provided Rappler a copy of the latest available rice wastage estimates from 2008.

Each Filipino wasted an average of 3.29kg/year, according to the Food and Nurtrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST).

The estimated rice wastage that year was 296,869 metric tons (MT), which accounted for 12.2% of the year’s rice imports. The loss amounted to P7.3 billion. (READ: How much do farmers lose?)

With the same amount, more than 2 million Filipinos could have been fed. This is just in terms of rice, excluding the other kinds of food and resources we waste.

The biggest losers

FAO defines “food loss” as a decrease in the quantity or quality (nutritional value) of food intended for human consumption. This means that food loss may already happen even before it reaches consumers.

It occurs during the production, postharvest, and processing stages of the food supply chain. (READ: The status of PH Agriculture)

In the Philippines, the lack of modern agricultural technologies, resources and skills, infrastructure like irrigation systems and farm-to-market roads, land tenure, support for research, innovation, and agricultural workers contribute to food loss.   

These deficiencies are mostly due to the financial limitations experienced by Filipino farmers and fisherfolk, as well as the lack of government funding.

Food loss impacts not only on food security, but also the country’s economy and environment.

It harms agricultural livelihoods, hence affecting food prices, production, and supply – ultimately lowering agriculture’s share in the country’s economy. Poor production may compromise not only the food security of the families of agricultural workers, but also the household food security of Filipino consumers.

Food loss also harms the environment since “producing food that will not be consumed leads to unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions,” FAO explained.

This can then intensify the effects of climate change, hence repeating the same pattern: food losses – food insecurity – economic and environmental implications – food losses. (READ: Climate change and food security)

Unless proper interventions are made, this vicious cycle can go on for years.

Types of food loss

FAO identified 5 types of food loss among crop and livestock products, depending on which level of the food supply chain they occurred:

  • Agricultural production
  • Postharvest handling, storage, transportation
  • Processing
  • Distribution, marketing, retailing
  • Consumption (household level)

Food loss at the consumption level is called “food waste.” The term “food wastage” encompasses both food loss and food waste, as defined by FAO.

According to FAO, among developing countries like the Philippines, much of the food loss occurs before the consumption stage. More than 40% of food losses occur during the production, postharvest, and processing stages.

During postharvest in the Philippines, the physical rice losses can reach 15%, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) reported.

In the production process, water, fertilizers, labor, seeds, fuel, and other agricultural inputs are also wasted.

FAO highlighted some of the reasons behind food loss among developing countries:

  • Premature harvesting: due to food deficiency or immediate need for money. The crops then lose both economic and nutritional value, and may end up not being unsuitable for consumption.
  • Poor storage, processing facilities, infrastructures
  • Failure to comply with food safety standards
  • Lack of direct markets between small farmers and consumers
  • Wasteful consumption habits

Food loss also roots from degraded agricultural lands due to poor maintenance. In the Philippine context, the conversion of farmlands into other uses may also be a factor.

Although hunger and poverty persist in the Philippines, some consumers still take their meals for granted. At the same time, food scavenging is becoming frequent among the poorest. (WATCH: Meal of the day ‘Pagpag’)

Rice

Rice wastage among Filipinos may seem ironic since the Philippines is one of the world’s biggest rice consumers and importers. 

Nation’s per capita rice consumption 1995 2012
104.3 kg/year 114.3 kg/year

Source: Bureau of Agricultural Statistics

In 2010, the Philippines was the world’s largest rice importer. This is despite being the world’s 8th biggest rice producer from 2006-2010. 

From 1999-2003, on average, the country imported around 10% of its rice consumption requirements, IRRI estimated.

The present reality is a far cry from the rice self-sufficiency the Philippines enjoyed over two decades ago. In 1992, the Philippines produced much of its rice consumption requirements and even exported.

The rice import then was only minimal at 35,101 MT, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB).

Since then, the Philippines has transitioned from being an agricultural exporter to being an importer.

YearRice ImportsRice Exports
  in metric tons
1992 636 35,101
1994 169 No exportation
2000 642,294 323
2006 1,723,277 90
2010 2,386,217 1,309

Source: NSCB

As the country’s population ballooned from around 65 million (1992) to over 98 million (2013), the country’s rice requirements doubled from 5.7 million MT to 10.6 million MT in 2010. Despite the growing demand, the country’s rice self-sufficiency dwindled, while import dependency increased.

In 2013, the National Food Authority (NFA) reported that the country’s rice import was 205,700 MT. In the aftermath of Ttyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan), it imported an additional 500,000 MT from Vietnam. 

Yolanda hindered the country’s plans of attaining self-sufficiency. Yolanda cost the country billions of pesos in agricultural damages. The lack of proper preparation and response to such disasters also contributed to further food loss.

Reducing food wastage

Much needs to be done to reduce food wastage. Reducing food wastage is also part of the UN Zero Hunger Challenge.

One way of helping is by increasing awareness about the causes and effects of food wastage, not only among agricultural workers, but also among consumers, businesses, and government agencies.

More importantly, developing the country’s agriculture sector can decrease food wastage. If fewer food is lost during the production process, more food can reach households. (READ: Pending Senate Bills related to agriculture and fishery)

However, this should also be partnered with fair income distribution so that consumers will have fair access to food. After all, food insecurity is mainly a problem of access rather than production, FAO said.

Consumption habits must also improve:

  • Do not purchase more than what you need
  • Do not immediately throw away food (i.e., soft fruits or vegetables can be converted into drinks, desserts, soup) 
  • Instead of letting food spoil (i.e., grocery supplies expiring), share or donate them while they are still consumable
  • Be creative in the kitchen, clean leftovers can still be eaten or modified

FAO also advised food-related businesses to donate clean and nutritious food surpluses to those in need.

Italy has a law that enables schools, supermarkets, and restaurants to donate clean surpluses and leftovers to those in need. One city in Belgium requires supermarkets to donate their surpluses to food banks. (READ: Bill seeks to end PH hunger in 10 years)

Japan implements a “Food Recycling Law” which requires food businesses to safely convert their food wastage into raw materials for animal feeds or fertilizers.

“Reducing food losses and waste can make an important contribution to better nutrition,” FAO concluded. – Rappler.com

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