UN bares unabated food loss in developing countries that leads to high-cost

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Cordillera and lowland farmers continue to supply the Baguio City market with locally produced crops. (THEPHILBIZNEWS FILE PHOTO/Mau Victa)

The staggering amount of food loss in international trade exerts a profound impact on developing countries and reveals the urgent need for collective, tailored and strategic approaches that address both micro- and macro-level drivers of food loss, according to a new United Nations (UN) report.

The paper published by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) said food losses in international trade have high socio-economic costs, impacting food security, waste management, and climate change. About 14% of food, valued at US$400 billion annually, is lost from post-harvest to delivery at the last trading point prior to reaching retail outlets, based on the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Loss Index.

To illustrate, world production of fruits and vegetables, which are particularly perishable and form a significant portion of food loss, was reported to be 1.84 billion tonnes in 2019, with about 30% to 40% lost after harvesting due to various factors ranging from perishability to logistical challenges, the report said.

The COVID-19 pandemic further increased food loss in international trade of fresh produce due to transportation delays and supply chain disruptions. “This situation underscored the importance of internationally recognized protocols to mitigate fruit and vegetable losses during such crises. Additionally, the complex nature of import and export procedures contributes to losses in the fruits and vegetables trade,” the research paper entitled “Food losses in international trade: case studies from Asia and the Pacific,” said.

Notably, developing countries experience greater food losses than developed countries due to several reasons, including inadequate trade logistics, poor storage and handling, unfavorable climate, infrequent transport services, outdated storage facilities, lack of cold chain infrastructure, sub-standard packaging, limited market knowledge, inefficient marketing institutions, and losses due to non-compliance with quality and sanitary-phytosanitary standards.

Food loss is described as “food that gets spilled, spoilt, or otherwise lost, or incurs reduction of quality and value during its process in the food supply chain before reaching its final product stage,” according to the UN. Typically, this occurs during the production, post-harvest, processing, and distribution stages of the food supply chain.

The paper emphasized the need to combat food losses to achieve economic efficiency and improve food security, waste management, and environmental sustainability.

Specifically, it bared the outcome of case studies on food losses in international trade involving four Asia-Pacific countries, namely, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. “The studies collectively reveal a consistent theme: the necessity for tailored, strategic approaches addressing both micro and macro-level drivers of food loss,” the report said.

The case study on India focused on the food loss challenges faced by the country’s three largest traded food products—marine products, meat products, and fruits/dry fruits. In a recent webinar, study authors stressed the importance of capacity building and training of involved stakeholders, good manufacturing practices, reduction of rejections and refusals, and elimination of regulatory and logistical hindrances, among others, to minimize food losses for the country.

Meanwhile, the examination of Indonesian tuna exports to the European Union, United States, and Japan highlighted the impact of differing international standards and regulations on food losses. The study underscored the importance of harmonizing standards and improving the understanding and dissemination of these standards among stakeholders in the tuna trade. It suggested that addressing both the micro-level issues, such as improving post-harvest handling and sanitation, and macro-level challenges, like the complexity of non-tariff measures, can significantly reduce food loss in this sector.

On the other hand, Sri Lanka’s agricultural trade saw significant rejection rates at the country’s borders. The study emphasized the need for enhanced awareness among exporters and government officials about both domestic and international regulations, suggesting that improving infrastructure in the agricultural value chain can play a crucial role in reducing border food losses.

And for Bangladesh’s fruit and vegetable trade, the paper underscored the need for infrastructural improvements, including cold storage systems and specialized transportation facilities, to combat food losses. The paper called for a multifaceted approach involving compliance with agricultural best practices, effective post-harvest handling, and governmental support to foster a conducive environment for reducing food loss.

Overall, the research study recommended implementing innovative approaches to minimize food loss at all levels of the value chain and increase food security and resilience. Strategies include controlling temperature in storage, transport, and packaging as well as strengthening the supply chain through direct farmer-buyer linkages and investments in infrastructure.

Moreover, improving packaging can reduce perishability during transportation, while good storage systems, such as quick freezing, can extend the shelf life of perishable commodities, the report continued.

Adherence to regulations and codes of practice is also crucial to control losses and wastes and ensure the quality of fresh produce.

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