Food Waste and World Hunger – The Food Supply Chain is Broken!

There are many different supply chains in the world, covering every industry, business or institution and every aspect of our lives. But the most important supply chain is the food supply chain! Our survival depends on there being a food supply chain at all.

But there are two very contrasting but unacceptable problems in this supply chain. On the one hand there is a horrific amount of food waste. On the other hand, an enormous part of humanity suffers from hunger! The food supply chain, the most important supply chain in the world, is BROKEN!

The problems

food waste

Over 1/3 of all food produced worldwide is wasted! That is over 1.3 billion tons of food per year. More than half of all fruits and vegetables produced are wasted.

According to the World Food Program, “Food is often wasted on the plate in developed countries, while it is lost in production in developing countries because crops go unused or unprocessed because of poor storage or because farmers are unable to get their goods to market”. http://www1.wfp.org/zero-hunger

Food is wasted at every stage of the supply chain, as shown in the table below. Consumers are the largest source of food waste in developed countries, throwing away at least 20-30% of their purchases. Grocery stores overstock or discards food that is not aesthetically pleasing. And problems with harvesting, quality standards, storage, shipping costs and handling result in food waste.

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Table source: http://blog.soylent.com/post/134550572082/americas-food-waste-epidemic

The amount of food waste far exceeds that of any other commodity, be it paper, plastics, metals, textiles or anything else.

In addition to the obvious concerns about food waste (which includes wasting water, land and other resources used to produce, process and handle the food), it is also worth noting that only 3% of food wasted is actually composted. The result is that food waste causes 8% of all greenhouse gases in the world! “If food waste were a country, its carbon footprint (and greenhouse gas emissions) would be only third behind China and the United States.” http://blog.soylent.com/post/134550572082/americas-food-waste-epidemic

world hunger

One in 9 people in the world, that’s 800 million people, goes hungry and suffers from chronic malnutrition every day!

The problem of hunger spans the globe, but the highest concentrations of malnutrition are found in Asia (510 million people), Africa (230 million people) and Latin America (34 million people). But as we know, parts of the population in developed countries also suffer from hunger.

There are many reasons for world hunger. Poverty is the main cause of hunger alongside climate change, weather, war and conflict, politics, lack of investment in agriculture, population growth, market dynamics and food waste.

“However, today there is 17% more food available per person than 30 years ago. If all the food in the world were evenly distributed, everyone would have enough to consume 2,700 calories a day — that’s more than the minimum requirement of 2,100 for good health. So the challenge is not a lack of food, but making food available to all who need it.” Source: https://www.mercycorps.org/

Food waste meets world hunger

As we have discussed, in a “perfect world” there would be enough food produced in the world to feed everyone. Among many other measures being taken or considered to reduce hunger, how might reducing food waste affect world hunger?

According to foodtank.com, “Only a quarter of all food wasted could feed the 795 million malnourished people around the world who are suffering from hunger.” https://foodtank.com/news/2015/06/world-environment-day-10-facts-about-food-waste-from-bcfn/

That’s correct! Despite all the other causes of hunger, if we could just reduce 25% of all food wasted and redirect that food to those who are starving, we could theoretically feed everyone on the planet!

Food Waste and World Hunger: The Role and Responsibility of the Supply Chain

As a human, I believe that everyone can intuitively understand why it is important to reduce both food waste and world hunger. But for those of us who work in the supply chain, we have a unique opportunity to create and deploy the processes, tools and systems that can make those goals a reality.

Look at the table we showed earlier under Food Waste by Supply Chain Stage. By going through the column titled “Possible Remedial Actions,” you can quickly see where the supply chain can make a difference.

Better supply-demand planning, quality management, reducing transportation lead time, optimizing distribution network, reducing lead time, better handling, more effective warehousing, real-time order management, and improving reverse logistics are all part of the supply chain.

Future technologies can also help reduce food waste. The use of real-time, end-to-end supply chain visibility, blockchain, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence all have the potential to improve some aspects of the food supply chain.

Remember, we aim for a 25 percent reduction in food waste. Everyone in the supply chain has experienced being asked to improve a metric by 25% or more. Therefore, despite all the inevitable challenges, it is not unrealistic that a reduction in food waste can be achieved, leading to a corresponding reduction in world hunger!

Certainly, these issues are everyone’s responsibility: every person, every government, every company and institution, and every country. But supply chain professionals have such incredible and powerful skills and experience that they are uniquely qualified to help solve these global problems.

Tell us what you think!

How can the supply chain help reduce food waste and reduce world hunger?

Originally published May 22, 2018.

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