By Karim Khan and Abdul Khaliq
Food Wastage on a Global Level
Food wastage is a serious concern across the globe in terms of economic, environmental, and social aspects. Wastage implies contraction of the food items or eatables produced for consumption by humans, but left uneaten or thrown away. It may occur at different phases of food chain like production, processing, retailing, and consumption; however, in all of its forms, food loss is a global crunch. It affects the physical health of the planet and the entire populace of the world. According to a recent UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report, we waste roughly one-third of the global food produced for human consumption (approximately 1.3 billion tonnes) annually.
Roughly 30 percent of the waste is in cereals, 40-50 percent in root crops, fruits, and vegetables, and 20-30 percent in oilseeds, meat, dairy and fish products. Industrialized and developing countries account for USD 680 billion and USD 310 billion of this waste, respectively. All these figures imply that food wastage causes squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labor, capital. It also needlessly produces greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change.
Food Wastage, Pakistan and Hunger
Pakistan is no exception in this regard. Millions of people don’t have access to healthy or balanced meals while well-off individuals waste food on a daily basis. We actually waste around 36 million tonnes of food annually, with weddings, parties, and hotels accounting for about 40 percent.
Alongside this wastage, Pakistan suffers from a shocking level of hunger as reported by the Global Hunger Index 2020. We rank 88 out of 132 countries across the globe. According World Food Programme estimates, 43 percent of the population remains food insecure, with 18 percent facing severe shortage. Likewise, a 2018 National Nutrition Survey shows that 60 percent of the population in Pakistan still faces food insecurity. The same survey also shows that 15 percent of the children under 5 suffer from acute malnutrition. In the same age group, close to 44 percent children are underdeveloped, and 32 percent underweight. The majority of children under 2 consume less than half of daily energy requirements.
The Consequences for Us
High child mortality rates, prevalence of zinc and iodine deficiencies, stunting, and anemia have serious consequences in the long term. They lead to deficits in physical and mental development that weakens future labor productivity in the country. FAO estimates malnutrition and its outcomes cost our economy 3 percent of GDP (USD 7.6 billion) annually. Moreover, food wastage also has detrimental effects on food prices and inflation. Clearly there is acute need for policy intervention both on the supply side as well regulations to control food wastage.
On the supply side, food security implies having reliable access to sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food. However, this entails large fiscal costs, including costs for incentivizing farmers to ensure food self-sufficiency as well as cost of direct intervention like social safety nets. Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), the flagship social safety net programme, is the largest and most systematic social protection initiative. A recent impact evaluation report by Oxford Policy Management indicates BISP has no impact on poverty reduction, food security or child nutrition. However, it has had beneficial effects on consumption, female education and women empowerment from 2011 to 2019.
The reason is the fall in the real value of the transfer by 9 percent, while value of the transfer as a proportion of per adult equivalent consumption expenditure has fallen by 25 percent. Also, the welfare gains that are attributable to BISP in terms of consumption expenditure have been exhausted. Moreover, BISP supports the needs of the poorest 20 percent population, so the designed coverage rate is low. The post-COVID scenario is different as vulnerabilities of daily wage workers and other low-income households have significantly increased.
Regulations on Food Wastage
Regarding regulations on food wastage, Punjab Food Authority (PFA) has established a regulation: Disposal of Excess Food Regulation 2019. This regulation has also been linked to the Prime Minister’s Ehsaas Program. Food operators, and all those who manufacture food items for sale, transport, storage, distribution or trade are to donate excess food to donors. These donations are then distributed amongst the underprivileged. The primary objective is to provide excess food to deserving people while keeping adequate safety standards.
In practice, the authority plays a coordinating role with NGOs to collect and distribute surplus food among the vulnerable. Other provinces have rules and regulations regarding food standards, labelling, processes etc., but no formal arrangement for food wastage. So, the other provinces should follow Punjab’s initiative to reduce food wastage. In particular, such regulation should be implemented on a national level. It would help us in achieving zero-hunger goal of the SDGs, a main component of National Food Policy, 2017.
Implementation of Regulations
As far as the implementation of the regulation is concerned; one suggestion would be to develop a food-sharing mobile app as it would help in connecting the donors with the deserving. Also, through such app, some of Pakistan’s prominent food donating organizations like Akhuwat Food Bank, Sylani Welfare Trust, Edhi Foundation, Alkhidmat Foundation, Rizq 313 etc. could contact the restaurants and hotels to collect surplus food and distribute it among the deserving on their food points.
Second, as is stated in its draft, increased public private partnership with regard to disposal of excess food would enhance the effectiveness of the regulation. Moreover, reward system as is proclaimed in the regulation should be introduced for those hotels and restaurants which would help in the provision of food for deserving people. Other measures like restricting fancy meals on weddings, awareness programs with regard to both the food wastage and the vulnerable households, smart purchasing by consumers, recycling regulations etc. can go a long way in mitigating food wastage in Pakistan.
Ed. note: this post has been updated to reflect the link between PFA’s Disposal of Excess Food Regulation 2019 and the PM’s Ehsaas Program