Let's tackle food wastage for a friendlier climate

Like climate action, food wastage is a moral, policy, governance, environmental, health, political, and religious issue that must be tackled decisively. [iStockphoto]

Climate change is a sure pain in the neck for many nations as it threatens food security, whether it comes in form of drought, flooding or unpredictable rain patterns.

A report released in Dubai during the COP28 climate talks last December brought to the fore Africa’s deepening food crisis, stating: “…nearly 282 million people in Africa (about 20 per cent of the population) are undernourished… More than a billion people are unable to afford a healthy diet. Around 30 per cent of children are stunted because of malnutrition.”

It is like having the entire Nigerian and Kenyan populations undernourished, according to the report co-authored by Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Economic Commission for Africa, African Union Commission and World Food Programme.

Blame it on climate change, inflation or poor agrifood systems, but another problem that haunts us is right under our noses. Visit an African market today and the sight of rotting food haunts, especially when you know street families or poor people somewhere sleep hungry.

Before you label traders who discard the foodstuff as mean, check how much food goes to waste in your own house, either because of poor storage, mishandling or taste and preference. Add these to the fruits and vegetables that rot in farms and never make it to markets due to inadequate storage facilities, insufficient transportation infrastructure, and inefficient harvesting techniques. Food wastage is a pervasive problem in Africa.

Sad how costly it is, financially and environmentally, to produce the same foodstuff that is wasted, considering that growing them sometimes necessitates diverting rivers to farms, clearing forests and other natural habitats, spraying pests, use of motorised machines to till land and transport ready produce to markets, and refrigeration to mention a few.

The emissions generated throughout the processes contribute to the greenhouse effect, worsening climate change and causing more disasters. Furthermore, decomposing foodstuffs release methane, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. According to the International Energy Authority, methane is responsible for nearly 30 per cent of global temperature rise since the industrial revolution.

Besides, a typical African dumping site is filthy and poorly managed, always overflowing with organic matter and contaminating soil and water sources nearby. The soils and water sources are used to grow vegetables that end up in markets, some wasted, and others on our plates. The cycle is vicious. Nairobians have Dandora dumping site and know how sensitive a matter it is, even to well-being of neighbouring populations.

Yes, climate change is to blame for much of the food insecurity in Africa, especially in low- and middle-income countries, and must be dealt with. But on the other hand, there is also the need to prioritise curbing food wastage and mitigating its environmental impacts that worsen the climate crisis.

These wasted foodstuff should be diverted to the millions of hungry stomachs. This requires elaborate approach involving the entire food supply chain, from farm to fork with more investment in cold storage facilities and transportation networks to minimise post-harvest losses and ensure food reaches consumers in time.

Partnerships between governments, the private sector, learning institutions and NGOs can boost campaigns targeting farmers, retailers, and consumers to raise awareness of the importance of reducing wastage.

Like climate action, food wastage is a moral, policy, governance, environmental, health, political, and religious issue that must be tackled decisively. And Africa is best placed to try new, easier, more affordable, traceable, and eco-friendly solutions while we tackle climate change and ensure zero hunger and malnutrition within this decade of action to achieve the second and effectively all the other 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Waste no food this Easter!

The writer advocates climate justice.