Waste prevention strategies and promoting self-sufficiency could be key to feeding the world’s fast-growing population, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute.
Finding ways to increase global food production has been increasingly in the spotlight, as world population is on target to hit the seven billion mark later this year, and is forecast to reach nine billion by 2050. Food shortages and high prices sparked riots in many countries around the world in 2008, and served to underline the urgency of the situation.
But in its annual State of the World report, the environmental research organization Worldwatch Institute suggests that the focus should shift away from producing more food, toward encouraging self-sufficiency and reducing food waste in rich and poor nations alike. It draws on case studies from across the world to illustrate how local initiatives can have broad implications for improving the food supply and tackling hunger, and underlines that increasing food production does not necessarily translate to hunger prevention.
Senior fellow with the Worldwatch Institute Brian Halweil told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “Of course it’s not a completely either/or situation. Production has been our main focus for a long time, but if you look at various links in the food chain, such as food waste on the farm, in processing, in the household, and having very inefficient water use, how we currently use food is quite wasteful.”
Estimates vary as to how much of the global food supply is wasted, from a quarter to a half, even in some of the most sophisticated supply chains.
“On a regional and national basis there is potential to reduce waste,” Halweil said. “There is no question that on a global level there’s enough scope to feed everyone…The problem in the chain is not a lack of production. Even in hungry countries there are often crops being produced in abundance.”
The institute’s report said that from 1980 to 2009, the production of barley, corn, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum and wheat increased by nearly 55 percent, but countries’ food self-sufficiency and hunger has also increased during this period. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there are nearly a billion people in the world who are chronically hungry.
Halweil said that the private food sector has an important role to play in making the world’s food supply chain less wasteful and more efficient – for example, in sharing its knowledge about efficient distribution with the private sector, and in sourcing ingredients from closer to home.
“Any food business that isn’t looking at ways to regionalize its supply chain is really behind the curve at this time,” he said. “And there are certain other benefits to this regionalization, including preventing large scale food safety disasters. That is not to say that outbreaks don’t happen in local and regional food systems but the outbreak will not be on the same scale as we saw with spinach and peanut butter.”
Halweil pointed to the rapid rise of the local food movement in the United States as evidence that consumers are willing to demand change through their individual food choices, adding that school districts and government institutions are now also looking to source foods locally.