Food produced but not eaten every year costs producers $750 billion annually, damages natural resources and adds 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere, according to a new report from the United Nations—and rice was is the biggest problem.
According to the UN report “Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources”, some 1.4 billion hectares of land, or 28% of the world’s agricultural area, is used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.
Without considering food waste, it is said that the world will need to produce 70% more food to feed a projected 9 billion people within three decades. But if the UN report is accurate, reducing food waste could mean we only need to produce 10% more food to feed the growing population.
While hundreds of millions go hungry, we waste 1.43 billion tons of food every year, and this waste causes serious damage to natural resources, to the climate, our water sources, land and biodiversity.
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“While it is difficult to estimate impacts on biodiversity at a global level, food wastage unduly compounds the negative externalities that mono-cropping and agriculture While expansion into wild areas create on biodiversity loss, including mammals, birds, fish and amphibians,” the report said.
And it is cereals in Asia—and mostly rice—that comprises the single largest category of this waste.
The UN estimates that 80 kilograms of cereals, mostly rice, are wasted per person in Asia every year, negatively affecting carbon emissions as well as water and land use. According to the report vegetables and cereals production in China, Korea and Japan, and production of cereals and starchy roots in South Asia and Southeast Asia are the biggest problems.
Rice takes the lion’s share of this as paddy fields account for around 20% of human-related greenhouse gas emissions of methane, and a significant amount of rice is wasted. Most of the waste occurs during agricultural production and post-harvest storage.
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"There is no other crop that is emitting such a large amount of greenhouse gases," Reiner Wassmann, a climate-change specialist at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, told reporters.
Rice crops emit methane as organic matter decomposes in flooded paddies.
So the answer to feeding the hungry, according the UN study, is not necessarily to be found in increasing production, rather in reducing the enormous about of waste at all levels, though the biggest problem is the waste that occurs furthest from the consumer.
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com