Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Global Famine and Global Feast

Prof Gaddeswarup - one of the many blog-personas, I have met, conversed and related with in this space during last couple of years - sent me a link today to an article about the current food crisis I had blogged about earlier (Global Hunger: The Next Stage of Globalisation...

What struck me was this interesting graph in the report:

Apparently, the food production has increased 3-fold during since 1961, while the world population has slightly doubled from 3bn to 6bn+... and prices have gone down singinificantly (inspite of the current peak)

... and yet we have a "food crisis"!! why?

Which reminded me of an Austrian documentary "We Feed the World", which I had seen some months back. The film was about globalisation and food: "Every day in Vienna the amount of unsold bread sent back to be disposed of is enough to supply Austria's second-largest city, Graz. Around 350,000 hectares of agricultural land, above all in Latin America, are dedicated to the cultivation of soybeans to feed Austria's livestock while one quarter of the local population starves. Every European eats ten kilograms a year of artificially irrigated greenhouse vegetables from southern Spain, which results in water shortages."

The image, which remained stuck in my mind for days, was that of a truck-load of perfectly edible food being dumped in the garbage yard... It was a criminal waste.

The driver of the truck says, "...we take away about 2mn kilos of bread every year, and there is nothing wrong with them. It's no more than 2 day old, fit for anybody to eat... I always drive the same route, I see old people stopping and staring, because they just can't believe what we are doing."

Apparently, the "food crisis" is there because much of what is produced goes waste in the value chain...

One oft-mentioned aspect is the waste that happens by the time the produce reaches the consumer... Mostly prevalent in the developing countries.

For example, in March this year, in India, the Minister of State for Food Processing Industries (FPI) Subodh Kant Sahay, informed the parliament that as much as as Rs.58,000 worth of grains get wasted due to lack of adequate post-harvest infrastructure, i.e., due to lack of cold chains, transportation and proper storage facilities, etc.

What is, however, not highlighted is the food wastage that happens after it reaches the consumer... specially in the developed countries/economies.

So here are some snapshots which I could gather from the net:

  • In the United Kingdom, "a shocking 30-40% of all food is never eaten". About $38bn worth of edible food is thrown away every year, and during the past decade, the amounted of wasted food has gone up by 15%.

  • In the USA, the official surveys indicate that every year more than 160bn Kg of edible food is available for human consumption. Of this, 45bn Kg - including fresh vegetables, fruits, milk, and grain products - are lost to waste by retailers, restaurants, and consumers. By contrast, less than 10% of the wasted food can feed the 30mn people in the US who go hungry on a regular basis.

  • According to a report by US Dept of Agriculture (USDA), about 20% of country's food goes waste, representing an annual value of about $31bn (Though this is a decade-old study, my guess is that, if anything, the numbers would have only inceased over time).

  • Japan is world's biggest importer of food. However, around $100 worth of that food finds its way into bins, which by some estimates is equal or more than what Briton spends on food. Per capita food waste is around $780, and what goes wasted would be sufficient forfeeding 50mn people.

  • Lastly, the other kind of food wastage!. And it is another kind of "global food crisis"... If there are more than a billion malnurished people on the planet, there are an equal number of obese people as well!... This phenomenon, often termed Globesity is yet another indication that the market-led global food supply chain carries the food to wrong places!!!

    Somewhat related earlier posts:
  • Global Hunger: The Next Stage of Globalization
  • India: Starving on a Mountain of Grains
  • Is there a "Suicide" in your Food?

  • 2 comments:

    gaddeswarup said...

    From an interview with Josette Sheeran, executive director of UN World Food Program
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=4296
    Excerpts:
    "The problem is, farmers in the developing world are not planting in the way that they did before because they can’t afford the inputs. This could compound the crisis and requires very quick attention from the global community."
    "I’m optimistic because the world knows how to beat the cycle of hunger and the world knows how to produce enough food for the global population. A lot of global hunger is an infrastructure and distribution problem—maybe half. We see up to half the food lost in developing countries simply because there’s no way to get it from farm gates to markets. We see virtually nonexistent agricultural markets, so there’s no place for buyer and seller to meet. These are things that can be solved. They don’t require a new scientific breakthrough or a Nobel Prize-winning team to find out how to produce enough food for the world. So, we need to focus our attention on a green revolution in Africa that will help break this cycle. In a way, the higher food prices may inspire more people to stay in farming as they see that it’s a good investment. But there will be a lag between what I hope will be a pretty robust response to world demand, and what I know will be a pretty difficult three to four years."

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