You worsen the climate crisis by throwing away food, experts say

Young boy collects carrot waste in Mau Narok [Kisang Joseph, Standard]

Despite the clear skies above Oloibortoto village in Kajiado County, Letoo Kamangu shakes with fury at the sight of his failed vegetable garden. 

He can no longer predict weather patterns with precision. “When I was growing up, we could easily predict the weather. Now it is hard to tell what will happen to our crops and animals,” says the 80-year-old. 

“The ancestors are angry,” he says, unable to comprehend global warming, the crisis that the annual UN-led climate change talks hope to tackle. The last climate meeting (COP26) held by parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was held in Glasgow, Scotland, early this month. 

Meeting in hotels

But Kamangu says it is all talk and no action. “For how long will people be meeting in big hotels in cities when we are suffering? We need to repent so that everything gets back to normal again,” he says. 

Kamangu is a victim and a sceptic. Researchers say combating climate change in the face of denial and scepticism is an arduous task. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says by mid-century, a billion people will face water and food shortage.

Head of Climate Finance and Green Economy at the National Treasury Peter Odhengo rues the lack of climate understanding. “Climate scepticism is fuelled by the business community that thinks transition to a green economy will be expensive. Go to rich economies and you’ll find oil barons fixed on their profit making trajectories,” he says.

Drought, high temperatures, floods, high disease burden, crop failure, unpredictable rains and land degradation are among the critical environmental challenges, with more that 250 million people affected in 100 vulnerable countries. 

But in the wake of these climate shocks, there is a twist. Every banana, grain of wheat, leaves of sukuma wiki, a bean or a cob of maize you throw away leads to global warming.

This is because food systems contribute a third of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and yet two-thirds of these are lost from farm to table. Food losses that occur at pre-harvest, post-harvest or during agro-processing lead to emissions, but don’t contribute to food security or nutrition.

The food waste index report by UNEP and the Waste Resources Action Programme for 2021 say every Kenyan throws away an average of 99kgs of food every year, with the country wasting 5.2 tonnes annually. This, researchers say, is a drawback to the climate war.  

Food bank

Thanks to a recently launched national food bank initiative, farmers in the 47 counties are being sensitised to cut on wastage and make better use of surplus harvests by, for instance, donating to charity or ensuring better storage. Food Banking Kenya (FBK) ‘rescues’ food that would have otherwise gone to waste. The founders of the programme say besides conservation, they are driven by the need to stem hunger and wastage by bridging the gap between food surplus that would have been wasted and the need to take the edible surplus to people who need food aid. 

More than 4 million people in 17 counties need food aid. According to the Drought Management Authority, Kajiado, Turkana, Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, Baringo, Kilifi, Isiolo, Tana River, Kwale, Marsabit and Kitui face hunger amid a debilitating drought.

The severity of the situation, which led President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare drought a national disaster on September 8, has been exacerbated by Covid-19, and could lead to social and economic strains.

FBK carries out anti-food waste campaigns targeting not just farmers but also manufacturers, producers, exporters and retailers. It started off at a school feeding programme in November last year, but diversified to focus on waste reduction through innovative production and harvesting.

“We’ve partnered with farms, traders and pack houses. Since the drive started, we have rescued more than 400,000kg of fruits and vegetables,” said FBK chief executive John Gathungu. 

Once rescued, fresh farm produce is collected, sorted and redistributed to needy people and regions. The group, which has storage facilities, supplements these with dry goods such as wheat flour, maize flour, sugar and rice from well-wishers before distribution. “We feed children’s homes, groups for the elderly, rescue centres and people living with disabilities. We have adopted 34 children’s homes and feed 2,695 children daily out of rescued food and from well-wishers,” says Mr Gathungu.

Gathungu, nonetheless, says to end food losses, local communities require awareness on responsible purchasing, preparation, consumption, storage and disposal. Last week, FBK officials did an outreach in Lari, Kiambu County, where they sensitised farmers. 

Relax rules

They have held similar visits to Kajiado, Murang’a, Nakuru, Nyandarua and in Nairobi’s Githogoro, Soweto, Kayole, Dandora, Saika and Kariobangi. They did an emergency outreach in Turkana last month. 

“For these efforts to pay off, the State should relax rules on standards of aesthetic requirement for fruits and vegetables, besides promoting redistribution of surplus and providing tax incentives to entities that donate food. This will reduce wastage,” he adds. 

While response has been impressive, Gathungu says: “It is vital to invest in training, technology and innovation in food waste management.”

The team believes that with attitude change, food wastage that contributes methane emissions from landfills, like the conspicuous ones in Dandora, can be contained.

FBK has individual and corporate donors, including Chandarana Supermarket, Biersdolf and the Global Food Banking Network.

But it is not all gloom. Kenya is among the first countries to have developed a national climate smart agriculture strategy in 2017. It secured $250 million (about Sh28 billion) to support farmers in 33 counties. 

“As at today, under the Financing Locally Led Climate Actions (Flloca) in the 47 counties, supporting smart agriculture is at the core of new climate programmes. Today, 36 counties have passed their climate change acts and policies,” Mr Odhengo told The Standard yesterday.

“Green Champions under Greening Kenya Trust is creating awareness at the village levels. A lot is being done now, but more time and additional resources are still needed,” he added.

Environmental lawyer Odete Oyieko says climate change is a cause-multiplier, thanks to the unpredictable trends. “Farmers have a role in reducing Kenya’s carbon footprint. This can only be achieved by reducing pollution, conserving energy and promoting environmental consciousness,” says Mr Odete.