Rome -- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have launched a joint project to tackle the global problem of food losses.
Around one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year, amounting to 1.3 billion tonnes - or enough food to feed 2 billion people.
The three UN agencies will work together on the $2.7 million project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation to target food losses in developing countries, which can occur during harvesting, processing, transportation and storage as a result of inadequate infrastructure or lack of skills and technology.
In particular, the three-year project will focus on reducing losses of grains and pulses such as maize, rice, beans and cow peas - staple foods that play a significant role in global food security and have a major impact on the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers.
According to a 2011 report by the World Bank, FAO and the United Kingdom's Natural Resources Institute, grain losses in sub-Saharan Africa alone are worth potentially $4 billion a year and could meet the minimum annual food requirements of at least 48 million people.
At a global level, the joint initiative will share knowledge on the most effective ways to reduce post-harvest losses and help countries introduce policies and regulations to cut down on wastage at national and regional level.
The project will also identify critical points for losses in pulse and grain supply chains in three African pilot countries - Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda - and identify and test potential solutions to issues such as ineffective harvesting and handling, storage moisture levels, attacks by rats, birds and other pests, and insect damage.
The UN project will contribute both to the Millennium Development Goal of improving food security and to the Zero Hunger Challenge launched in June 2012 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which includes zero loss or waste of food as one of its main elements.
'When some 840 million people are going hungry every day, we have an ethical responsibility to ensure that food produced is in fact consumed and not lost or wasted,' said Jong Jin Kim, Director of FAO's Programme Support Division, , speaking on behalf of all three Rome-based UN agencies. 'Reducing food loss and waste will make significant amounts of additional food available, and at lower environmental costs, which is also critical in view of the need to produce 60 percent more food by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing population.'
According to FAO, the 1.3 billion tonnes of food lost and wasted each year use 250 km3 of water and 1.4 billion hectares of land, and add 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to the earth's atmosphere.
'By mobilizing the individual strengths of IFAD, WFP and FAO, and thanks to Switzerland's contribution, we believe the project will have significant impact and influence in stimulating member countries to take action to reduce food losses,' said Kim.
Food loss occurs mostly during production stages - harvesting, transportation and storage of food - while food waste typically takes place at the retailer and consumer end of the food supply chain.
In total, food losses and waste account for about 30 percent of cereals, 40-50 percent of root crops, fruit and vegetables, 20 percent of oilseeds, meat and dairy, and 30 percent of fish produced each year.