Exposing the injustice of food waste
By Matilda Nakawungu
Every day humanity wastes food on a colossal scale. A stroll through any of our food markets or round the back of many grocery stores and supermarkets will turn up bins and pits of food that has gone bad. This is to be expected but surely it leaves one thinking; isn’t there something more sensible to do with food than waste it?
When people talk about the global hunger and malnutrition challenge, we immediately think of the need to increase global food production to feed the nine billion people expected on the planet by 2050. Ironically, statistics show that we are currently producing much more food than we actually need to feed the world. One-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is either lost or thrown away, together with the natural resources used for its production. It has been deduced that if half of this food that is lost or wasted was recovered, it would be enough to feed the world. In fact, a quarter of it could feed the 795 million undernourished people around the world who suffer from hunger today.
For a long time, Freeganism- a practice of reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded- was associated with the poor and homeless. However with the ongoing global campaign against food wastage, it has become a concept that is effectively exhibiting the injustice of food waste. It brings to light this one selfish act of humanity; that we take food off the market that hungry people could survive on, and throw it away.
We are straining the earth’s ecological limits, cutting down forests, extracting water from depleting water reserves, only to grow more and more food and then throw away so much of it. This is not a rational use of global resources, especially when you think of the billion hungry people that exist in the world.
The idea of food loss and wastage isn’t just about good, fresh or leftover food that is being thrown away. It’s also about the food that we let go bad because we harvest or we buy way more than we need. Food is wasted if it is discarded or prepared but left uneaten. This may be accidental or intentional, but ultimately leads to less food available for all.
In Uganda, we lose food at different stages between the farm and the plate, and quite often even after that. It can be from a lack of infrastructure, refrigeration, pasteurization, grain stores or even basic preservation mechanisms. It is quite baffling how on one end of our country people lose their lives to starvation while on another, food decays in public markets. It gets one questioning whether it really is a food shortage that’s causing the existing hunger challenge or, a glitch in our systems.
We all need to tackle these issues if our goal of achieving food security is to be realized. There is a lot that Government can do to achieve this goal particularly in parts of the country like Karamoja region that face chronic hunger. These can range from the long term solutions of building water reservoirs and supporting the revival of a mandatory granary system; to empowering farmers with the knowledge and skills to practice climate smart agriculture. However, there is also need to put in place systems and infrastructure that enable transportation and sell of food from regions of surplus to regions of scarcity. These are critical to reducing food losses since food often gets spilled or spoilt before it reaches its final product or retail stage.
Government together with Civil Society need to raise awareness on the impact of food wastage and additionally lobby for and set policy standards, market / price mechanisms, as well as institutional and legal frameworks that will change the “throw-away” mindset of Ugandans especially those living with surplus.
It would be unrealistic to think that we can live in a waste-free world- there will always be an allowance for inevitable waste. However, we can aspire to a world where food supply allows for a good, stable, secure and nutritious diet for every person. Let’s lobby and advocate for systems that will make it socially unacceptable to waste food on a vast scale both at household level and along the market chain especially by retailers. It is possible to stop this disastrous waste of resources. The best thing we can do with food is to eat it and to stop wasting it.