Kenyans throwing away Sh12.8 billion worth of food produced, report shows

Spoiled produce dumped at the Nakuru Wakulima Wholesale Market in Nakuru in 2019. Food waste is a market failure that results in the throwing away of more than Sh12.8 billion worth of food every year. [File, Standard]

As the country seeks to address food security, Kenyans homes are wasting up to 5,217,367 tonnes of food each year, which equates to 99 kilogrammes of food waste per household.

Kenya is currently facing severe food insecurity, ranking 94th out of 121 countries on the 2022 Global Hunger Index (GHI, 2022). Food insecurity indicators in the country have been on the rise since 2014.

According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), approximately 40 per cent of all food produced in Kenya goes to waste, which translates to 10 million metric tonnes of food wasted annually.

One of the primary forms of food waste in the Kenyan context is post-harvest losses, with an estimated 25 per cent of food produced in the country is lost between harvest and market due to inadequate storage facilities, lack of infrastructure, and poor handling practices, the loss occurs across various agricultural sectors, including fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and livestock.

The report further shows that Kenyan households discard an estimated 15 per cent of their food purchases, with inadequate meal planning, improper storage, and lack of awareness about food preservation techniques being major factors.

Food waste in Kenya has far-reaching implications such as environmental impact is significant, as decomposing food produces methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas accelerating climate change.

Kenya’s food loss and waste contribute 8 to 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions annually, surpassing the emissions of the aviation sector by almost five times.

This statistic underscores the urgent need to address food waste as a major driver of climate change, the unnecessary use of agricultural land for producing food that ultimately goes to waste takes up nearly one-third of the world’s agricultural land, this not only leads to deforestation and habitat destruction but also fuels significant biodiversity loss.

In a report released by the United Nation Environment programme (UNEP) Food Waste Index 2024, the issue of food loss and waste has been highlighted as a growing concern affecting the entire food system.

With challenges spanning multiple stakeholders and a disconnect between the root causes of waste and where it occurs in the supply chain, collaborative efforts have been identified as essential in achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3 and implementing systemic changes within the global food system.

The report state that one particular approach that has shown promise in driving food waste reduction throughout the food supply chain is the use of public-private partnerships (PPPs), also known as “voluntary agreements,” which involve stakeholders coming together to work towards a common goal of reducing food waste.

“By bringing together stakeholders from different sectors of the food supply chain, PPPs aim to combat the fragmentation that often hinders effective solutions to food waste. The establishment of PPPs signifies a collective acknowledgment that everyone, from international organizations and governments to businesses of all sizes and consumers, plays a crucial role in reducing food loss and waste,” the report state.

According to climate change expert and consultant, Job Kareithi, food waste, livestock operations, oil and gas extraction, and wastewater treatment plants are the largest sources of methane emissions in Kenya. Organic waste decomposing in landfills produces landfill gas, consisting of approximately 50 per cent methane. To combat this, Kenya should implement an effective methane capture system through a network of wells drilled into the decomposing waste, where it undergoes filtration, compression, and conversion into a renewable energy source.

“Methane from food waste is typically harvested through a process called anaerobic digestion. In this process, food waste is placed in an oxygen-free environment where bacteria break down the organic matter, producing methane gas as a byproduct. After the methane is harvested, it is processed to remove impurities and moisture, ensuring it meets quality standards. This processed methane can then be used as a renewable energy source, either directly for heating purposes or as a fuel for generating electricity in power plants,” he said.

He added that carbonising solid waste from food scraps can generate biochar, a carbon-rich material formed during the pyrolysis process, which involves the thermal decomposition of biomass at temperatures below 700°C without a sufficient supply of oxygen, biochar not only enhances soil quality but also stimulates plant growth. It holds great value in modern agriculture as it serves as a valuable asset while contributing to the economic growth of the country through carbon credits.

“Biochar holds the promise of being a game-changer in the field of carbon credits and climate change mitigation. By harnessing this revolutionary approach, we can unlock the true potential of nature’s carbon-capturing abilities, fostering a sustainable pathway towards a greener and economically prosperous future,” he said.