Half world's food never reaches the table

Posted: 22 August 2008

World Water Week in Stockholm concluded today with a warning that slow progress on sanitation will cause the world to badly fail the Global Millennium Development Goals. It also agreed that weak policy, poor management, increasing waste and exploding water demands are pushing the planet towards the tipping point of a global water crisis.

Massive amounts of water are usedto irrigate cropland in California© Inga Spence/Holt Studios International
Massive amounts of water are usedto irrigate cropland in California© Inga Spence/Holt Studios International
Massive amounts of water are usedto irrigate cropland in California© Inga Spence/Holt Studios International
The gathering of 2,400 scientists, leaders from governments and civil society, were presented with new research showing that half of the world's food is lost after it is produced. The study prepared by Stockholm International Water Institute, and other leading agencies, called for governments and individuals around the world to reduce by half the amount of food that is lost to ease pressure on water and land resources.

The study said that tremendous quantities of food are discarded in processing, transport, supermarkets and people's kitchens. This wasted food is also wasted water.

In the US, for instance, as much as 30 per cent of food, worth some US$48.3 billion, is thrown away. That's like leaving the tap running and pouring 40 trillion litres of water into the garbage can - enough water to meet the household needs of 500 million people.

Through international trade, savings in one country might benefit communities in other parts of the world.

More than enough food is produced to feed a healthy global population, the study claims. Distribution and access to food is a problem - many are hungry, while at the same time many over-eat. The Report highlights an often overlooked problem: we are providing food to take care of not only our necessary consumption but also our wasteful habits.

Key constraint

Credit: FAO
Credit: FAO
"As much as half of the water used to grow food globally may be lost or wasted," says Dr. Charlotte de Fraiture, Researcher at International Water Management Institute. "Curbing these losses and improving water productivity provides win-win opportunities for farmers, business, ecosystems, and the global hungry. An effective water-saving strategy requires that minimising food wastage is firmly placed on the political agenda."

Food production is constrained by the availability of water and land resources, the study says. An estimated 1.2 billion people already live in areas where there is not enough water to meet demand. And with rising demand for water-intensive agricultural products, such as beef and bioenergy, pressure mounts.

According to the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture 2007, these trends will lead to crises in many places, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. "Unless we change our practices, water will be a key constraint to food production in the future," said Dr. Pasquale Steduto of FAO.