Date released
21 August 2020

Four things to know about food loss

Food loss and food waste is a growing challenge for countries all over the world, but the impacts in developing countries are particularly huge. Food loss is leading to reduced incomes for farmers, heightened impacts of climate change, reduced access to nutritional food and weakened resilience of food systems to shocks, among other impacts – not to mention the added pressure of a global pandemic like COVID19.

We spoke to Professor Daryl Joyce from the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences at the University of Queensland to explain how food loss occurs and why it is so important.

1. Food loss vs. food waste

Food loss and food waste are a symptom of larger inefficiencies in our food systems. Understanding both definitions is a starting point toward achieving correlating objectives like food security and nutrition, among other challenges. According to the UN’s FAO, we can define them as:

Food loss – the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by food suppliers in the chain, excluding retailers, food service providers and consumers.

Food waste – refers to the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by retailers, food service providers and consumers.

2. Value chains and the food that never reaches the plate

A recent foresighting group has predicted that the amount of food lost before reaching consumers may increase – pending if value chains in low and middle-income countries become longer, along with a greater number of intermediaries.

While there are no identical value chains, improving food quality through the smarter use of technology is vital for a country and region’s food security, environmental sustainability, and reducing hunger and poverty.

According to Professor Daryl Joyce from the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences at the University of Queensland, the focus needs to be on improvements in the value chain. By harnessing technologies to monitor temperature of food during transit, for example monitoring the temperature changes of mangoes crossing from South Asia over to East Asia, and then sharing these data sets with direct and indirect suppliers as well as competitors, this could enable us to address the bigger picture of food loss and inefficiencies in the value chain.

3. Building loyalty through technology

At the more technical level of food loss, there’s a growing importance of data collection and sharing it as a relationship building tool. To ensure developing countries are not falling behind when it comes to food quality control, it boils down to sharing knowledge. Professor Joyce points out “technology and data actually facilitate stronger relationships for all parties to objectively see where food losses occur, and quality is reduced. Without this information they can only see what comes in and what comes out of their part of the chain”.

“What’s happened is that the technology used to be cumbersome and costly, but now it’s relatively easy and accessible.” Joyce explains the possibilities now for all parties to download data and objectively measure where problems might occur. “This enables you to talk to the other players in the supply chain, build communication through mutual understanding, develop relationships and trust, and therefore develop a more secure and more open supply chain.”

By sharing information caught during supply chain processes, the results and information flow both ways, creating a win-win opportunity particularly when aiming to reduce food loss.

4. The price is right

Understanding the quality needs of different markets can allow for flexibility in prices, and potentially save produce from being discarded.

Recognising that produce that is too poor quality for one use, may still have value for another use, if the price point is right. But beyond the value chain, prices factor in the extent of the produce’s seasonal availability. From Joyce’s perspective technology could be used once again to more efficiently monitor quality of stock and more accurately pick an acceptable price point without incurring major loses.

The example above of mangoes meeting consumer demand from one side of the continent to another is highly dependent not only on a well monitored transit, using GPS and temperature data checks, but also a strong relationship of the intermediary or the retailer on the other side to ensure an inclusive and fair value chain occurs.

What is ACIAR doing?

Reducing food loss in developing country value chains through food system innovation

ACIAR in partnership with Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), through The Food Futures Research Program, are launching a food loss research initiative.