Halving Food Waste and Reducing Food Losses by 2030

These remarks were delivered at the Champions 12.3 side event held on May 25, 2016, at the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly [UNEA-2] in Nairobi, Kenya.

I would like to welcome you all to the UNEA side event “Champions 12.3: Halving Food Waste and Reducing Food Losses by 2030.” Today we hope to inspire you, your government, your company, or your institution to take bold action to reduce food loss and waste.  And for those in the room representing environment ministries, we will call on you to collaborate to pursue the SDG target on food loss and waste.

To set the context for today’s session, I thought I would share with you a few astounding facts. Did you know that about one-third of all food intended for human consumption is lost or wasted from farm to fork every year?

Just think about the implications.

Consider food security. In some places, food loss due to poor storage or inadequate market access affects the ability of farmers to make a good living or even feed their families at times. In a world where one in nine people are undernourished, the fact that more than a billion tons of food never gets consumed is a travesty.

Consider the economy. Globally, food loss and waste causes about $940 billion each year in economic losses. Farmers lose money when they cannot sell their products. Consumers waste money when they throw out food they don’t eat.

Or consider the environment. Food that is ultimately lost or wasted consumes about one-quarter of all water used by agriculture each year, requires cropland area the size of China to be grown, and generates about eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions annually.

In fact, if food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet after China and the United States.

Reducing food loss and waste is therefore truly a sustainable development issue. Reducing food loss and waste can save money for farmers, companies and households. Wasting less becomes an opportunity to feed more. And reducing food loss and waste can alleviate pressure on water, land and the climate.

So what can be done to address this too often overlooked but major problem? Members of the Champions 12.3 coalition are outlining a three-step pathway forward to reducing food loss and waste. Champions 12.3 is a unique coalition of leaders dedicated to inspiring ambition, mobilizing action, and accelerating progress toward achieving Target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is the SDG target that calls for cutting in half food waste at retail and consumer levels and for reducing food losses along production and supply chains by 2030.

The first step is to set food loss and waste reduction targets consistent with SDG Target 12.3. Targets set ambition, and ambition motivates action.

Second, the old adage that “what gets measured gets managed” should be applied to food loss and waste. Most countries and companies currently do not quantify how much or where food is being lost or wasted. But if you don’t know how much or where, how can one be expected to know what to do or where the hotspots are? Achieving SDG Target 12.3 will thus depend on countries and companies measuring their food loss and waste.

Finally, countries and companies need to take action. Exactly what needs to be done will vary by country and stage of development. In developing countries, most food loss occurs during production and storage. Thus investments to improve storage, processing, transportation, and access to markets will be critical. In developed countries (as well as in rapidly growing urban areas just about everywhere), a lot of food waste occurs at the retail and consumer levels. Thus steps to facilitate food donations, improve food date labeling, better manage portion sizes, and better educate consumers will be vital.

When it comes to action, traditional knowledge and practices in my home country could be an inspiration for others. With its nomadic roots, Mongolians know they cannot afford to lose or waste food, so we have developed a number of innovative approaches. For instance, our ways of preserving foods such as borts (dried concentrated meat) and aaruul (dried milk products) so they last for years without refrigeration are very effective at avoiding spoilage. These approaches could be adopted and tailored to food types and tastes elsewhere.

A worldwide movement is afoot to tackle food loss and waste. I am proud of Mongolia’s leadership in this effort. In fact, we were the global host of the 2013 World Environment Day which was dedicated to the issue of food loss and waste.

In conclusion, when you leave UNEA at the end of the week, I encourage each of you to take this message home to your governments and companies:  Target, measure, act. Join the growing global movement.  Together, we can achieve a world where no more food goes to waste!  Thank you.