The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs in short) emphasize both increasing food security and reducing stress on natural resources. Reducing food loss and food wastage can make a critical contribution to these broad goals.
SDG 12 focuses specifically on sustainable consumption and production patterns; SDG target 12.3 calls for halving global food wastage at the retail and consumer levels, and reducing food losses along the value chain by 2030. In addition to these targets, the Committee of World Food Security has called on all public, private, and civil society actors to promote a common understanding of food loss and food wastage and to create an enabling environment for its “food use-not-waste” agenda, especially for monitoring, measurement, and reporting targets.
In May 2015, the G20 agriculture ministers highlighted the global challenge of preventing and reducing food loss and food wastage, and encouraged all G20 members to strengthen their collective efforts. In this context of international commitment, identifying the magnitudes, causes, and costs of food wastage and loss across the value chain is critical for setting priorities for action.
To achieve target 12.3, we need to set concrete targets at both regional and country levels, and specifically address the relevant differences between developing and developed countries. For developing countries like India, the focus in the short term should be on food loss, but it should also give attention to how to leapfrog to best practices for reducing food wastage.
The private sector also has a role to play, particularly when reducing food wastage and loss can generate profits. For example, choosing appropriate crop varieties, dealing with pre-harvest pests, and making processing and retail decisions may be best addressed by the private sector. Analyzing the factors affecting food loss and waste at the micro-, meso-, and macro-levels can help in identifying effective reduction interventions.
Looking at the micro-level causes of food wastage, studies point to credit constraints as one of the main bottlenecks to technology adoption to reduce food wastage. Others point to the importance of education; to contractual practices; and to the growing need to improve infrastructure, particularly in rural areas.
Micro-level causes can be linked to broader meso- and macro-level causes that overarch different stages of the value chain. For example, strict food safety concerns and regulations can lead to safe food being rejected for import or removed from markets. Other systemic causes relate to inappropriate technologies, changing consumer demands, and low capacities to adopt innovations or respond to changing consumption patterns.
Thus, context-specific cost-benefit analyses have to be systematically carried out to identify the most sustainable and efficient interventions for reducing food wastage.