Food Losses and Waste: Challenges for the Mediterranean Food System Sustainability

by Dr. Noureddin Driouech (Ph.D), (ELP 2012)
Coordinator of  CIHEAM-Alumni Network (FTN)
CIHEAM- Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari-Italy
Department of Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Rural Development –
Research team contact:

urplus tomatoes are dumped on farmland in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.  (Source:  Theguardian, 2009)

Surplus tomatoes are dumped on farmland in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
(Source: Theguardian, 2009)

Food demand is likely to increase due to the global demographic growth and changes in consumption patterns that are linked to increasing affluence of population, especially in emerging countries. In this regard, it is crucial to increase the global food production from agriculture, animal husbandry as well as forestry and fishery systems by almost 60% by 2050. This represents a great challenge for the current global food system as this should be done within the planetary boundaries and with minimum negative externalities not only on natural ecosystems but  on social systems.

Many studies show that the increase in food production needed to meet the growing food demand – but also to address the current food and nutritional insecurity – can be reduced by increasing the food chains efficiency and reducing food losses and waste.

Food losses and waste (FLW) is a complex emerging issue of global significance as it affects food security and environmental sustainability. FLW is one of the most severe social, economic and ecological problems faced by humanity. It is also an ethical issue as it occurs at a time in history when nearly one billion people are still undernourished. For that reason it needs to be urgently addressed in order to make the current food system more sustainable and achieve food and nutrition security. FLW undermine the basic foundations of sustainable food systems and food security. Wasting food means losing precious environmental resources (land, water, agricultural input and energy), human resources (human capital in agro-food sector) and financial resources (capital invested in agriculture).

Nevertheless, basic information is lacking on the types and quantities of food lost and/or wasted. Available data are scarce and fragmented. What is even more problematic is that data are collected using different methodologies, indicators and even definitions of food losses and waste which hinders comparability between the different studies.

In fact, the definition of waste is still a contentious subject, often defined on a situational basis; this also applies to food waste. The terms “food losses” and “food waste” are often used indistinctly, but there are subtle differences between them. Different professional bodies, including international organizations, state governments and secretariats use their own definitions (e.g. FAO, EU, USA-EPA). As a result of that, definitions of food waste vary, among other things, in what food waste consists of, how it is produced and where or what it is discarded from or generated by.

In the Mediterranean Area, precise and accurate data regarding food waste and losses should be enhanced, especially in a context where the food security of the area’s countries is fragile, and the sustainability of development is threatened. During the 10th meeting of the International Centre for Advanced Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM) member states agriculture ministers, the food waste issue was strongly emphasized.

In line with that, a research team of the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari (CIHEAM – MAIB ) started during last year’s many research and cooperation activities dealing with food losses and waste (for further information LINK). In particular, it has recently launched an open consultation (LINK) on food waste in the southern and eastern Mediterranean countries in order to get fresh data on the amount of food that is wasted by Mediterranean households as well as the financial estimate of the costs of that waste. The online survey aims also at getting insights into the effects of food management approaches and household member behavior on food waste.


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