But while we are wasting food, millions go hungry – a situation that will only be intensified by the impact of climate change, land degradation and rapid urbanization.
Asia’s young and increasingly affluent population is expected to double its demand for food to US$ 8 trillion. And yet, while the total net imports of food in Asia have tripled over the last twenty years, almost half a billion people still suffer from mal-nutrition.
Strong economic and population growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to triple domestic food demand by 2050. Globally, food demand is expected to increase anywhere from 59 percent to 98 percent by 2050.
Increasing food demand around the world will also further tip the balance and make it more difficult to ensure food security.
1. Make agricultural production more sustainable.
Review climate and water footprint of conventional agricultural methods and reverse large-scale agricultural land degradation and ground water depletion through: (a) technologies that optimize land and water usage, (b) nature-based solutions that restore ecosystems and (c) adopting alternative high-grade nutrient sources and regenerative farming practices.
Priority areas here include reducing the loss and waste of meat and dairy in high-income regions such as in Europe, North America and Latin America (impact on land) as well as reducing the loss and waste of cereals in Asia (impact on land and blue water), and fruits in Asia, Europe, and Latin America (impact on blue water).
2. Review supply chains and urban design patterns for opportunities to create more circular food systems.
In Asia, an estimated 40 percent of the food transported is lost. Circular urban and peri-urban farming models offer significant opportunities to reduce food loss and waste by bringing food production closer to the end user. This can be a particularly attractive solution for fast urbanizing, net-food importing countries in Asia, for instance, where food demand already exceeds the capacity of arable land.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed the brittleness of global food supply chains and their vulnerability in the face of national and global crises. Urban and peri-urban farming can therefore help build resilience against such external shocks and strengthen local and national food security.
3. Broaden access to clean and decentralised energy to expand usage of adequate cooling and storage systems
Lack of cooling makes it difficult for fresh produce to last, leading to massive post-harvest losses. An average of 23 percent of food production in developing countries is lost because of poor refrigeration. In the poorest regions of the world and particularly in rural areas, food losses are often due to insufficient access to reliable energy infrastructure, which reduces opportunities for value-added activities such as processing and cooling.
Closing the energy access gap – around 1.2 billion people still do not have access to electricity, and many more suffer from a poor supply (IEA, 2016) – could not only cut food loss but also dramatically improve livelihoods and expand income generation.
4. Review opportunities to invest in other climate-smart infrastructure such as transport, irrigation, processing and storage.
There are many different elements of the agricultural supply chain that present opportunities to strengthen circular approaches and sustainability. For example, developing more sustainable and energy-efficient cold chains can result in multiple benefits, especially when combined with technologies that can help us better understand our food’s journey, track temperature and freshness, gauge ripeness, improve demand and supply forecasts, and identify “waste” streams and how these can be captured and fed into other processes.
5. Recover nutrients from wastewater and post-consumer food waste.
Every day, African cities create thousands of tonnes of wastewater and other organic waste that could be profitably recycled into fertilizer, soil conditioner, clean energy and irrigation water. Wastewater, excreta, farm waste and food waste are all rich with raw materials that can be safely processed back into economically valuable – and environmentally sustainable – products.
Globally, 80 percent of wastewater flows back into ecosystems without being treated or reused, with emissions from untreated wastewater accounting for three times the emissions of treated wastewater. Capturing this wastewater through circular approaches would lead to significant health, environmental and economic benefits for cities, regions and countries.
Created with images from UNDP and by Radoslaw Prekurat - "Monkey breakfast" • Avinash Kumar - "untitled image" • Big Dodzy - "6:48AM - Tin Hau Market " • Louis Smit "Ola cart in Cape Town" • Science in HD - "NREL photovoltaic dual-use research project at growing crops under PV Arrays while producing electricity from the panels.