A woman sweeping the leftovers from a meal into a garbage bin. [iStockphoto]

The devastating effects of drought in Kenya keep on getting worse, leaving communities in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. It is anticipated that 5.4 million people will experience acute food insecurity between March and June 2023, with 1.2 million experiencing an emergency situation. In comparison to the same period last year, this latest prediction shows a 43 per cent increase in the number of people experiencing severe food insecurity.

Food goes to waste at every stage in the food manufacturing and distribution process – from farming and production to packaging, storage, distribution, retail and finally, once it reaches consumers. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, globally, we lose or waste over a third of the food we produce every year.

These numbers are unsustainable in a world where, according to FAO, around 870 million people do not have enough food. This is also bad for the environment, given the fact that food that ends up in landfills generates about 10 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

With precision agriculture, waste is cut at the source. Food waste starts during the first stage of the supply chain; on farms. According to the World Wildlife Fund, as much as 1.2 billion tonnes of the food produced globally is lost before it leaves the farm. A variety of factors cause this waste: From pests and disease to extreme weather events and water scarcity. During the harvest process, inadequate planning, poor use of harvesting technology and a lack of adequate temperature management also increase the risk of waste. 

By using a combination of smart sensors and data analytics tools, farmers can improve crop yields and make smarter decisions. It is all about coming up with innovative ways to use traditional resources more effectively, thus, promoting more sustainable agriculture.

Across the manufacturing sector there is constant pressure to maximise efficiencies, to do more with less. Manufacturers are increasingly being asked to up efficiency and productivity while also reducing costs. In addition, food and beverage manufacturers must be transparent around everything that happens as they transform fresh produce into edible products. 

During the distribution process, the vast majority of food waste or damage is due to inadequate storage conditions and poor handling. To mitigate this, distributors can leverage Internet of Things sensors that provide real-time location tracking and make it possible to monitor critical variables (like temperature and humidity) so that operators can quickly respond to any problems. 

It is important to mitigate waste across the supply chain. Once food reaches retailers, waste is most commonly attributed to the over-stocking of perishable products like fruits and vegetables. But today, there are apps that list goods available at shops that are nearing their expiration date so that users can buy them at lower prices. In this way, consumers get a bargain and retailers can recover money that would otherwise have been written off. 

Typically, waste in our homes is the result of improper storage, a lack of visibility in fridges and misjudged food needs. From appliances that help you keep track of the items in your fridge or pantry to fridge cams that send expiration date reminders, there are so many ways that new technologies can help consumers reduce wastage.

Ultimately, combatting food poverty is the goal. When the United Nations adopted its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 which seeks to provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, today and into the future, sustainable food production was included in this list. SDG 12 aims to promote sustainable consumption and production patterns by cutting food waste and loss in half come 2030.

Mr Wessels is manager, Professional Services, SYSPRO Africa