Food security

Giving food to the hungry

Giving food to the hungry instead of throwing it away has been the unanimous call of the G20 ministers In May 2015. Food wastage is an economic problem and a food distribution challenge.

The Group of 20 (G20) is the international forum of twenty country representatives: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States – with the European Union. The G20 was founded in 1999 to discuss international global issues. Meetings were originally twice a year, but since 2011 they have been held once a year. The 2015 two-day G20 summit was held in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 7-8.

In Turkey on Friday May 8, 2015, the Group of 20 ministers discussed global food wastage. The Food Agency Organization of the United Nations estimated in 2014 that 1.3 billion tonnes of food (roughly 30% of global production) is lost or wasted annually. The amount lost would feed the world’s 800 million hungry people, so why aren’t we giving food to the hungry? The G20 ministers discussed food wastage, nutrition, the impact of climate change, and food security. They stated that reduced food wastage would improve global food security.

What is food security? The World Health Organization (WHO) defines food security as existing when “all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” The concept of food security includes both physical and economic access to food that meets people’s dietary needs as well as their food preferences. There are three areas of concern related to food security: (1) food availability, (2) food access, and (3) food use. Food security has to be sustainable and linked to health, nutrition, economics, environment, and trade.

There are ways of giving food away – it could be to the hungry, or recycling food (using leftovers for other meals), composting food waste to replenish the environment, or conducting food swaps.

When the G20 discuss food security and wastage, they debate the following: (1) the problem is not agriculture, but distribution – in other words, there is enough food globally to feed everyone, (2) the problem is not production, but sustained production – i.e. future food needs can be met if we accurately produce the required amount, and (3) the problem is not agriculture or production, but employment in the agricultural sector – i.e. we need to value the work of farmers and primary producers. Of course, there are many more issues intertwined around these debatable issues.

In early May G20 ministers said, “We note with great concern the significant extent of food loss and waste … and their negative consequences for food security, nutrition, use of natural resources and the environment.” They highlighted food wastage as a critical global problem of economic, environmental, and societal significance.

Food wastage is largely twofold: (1) in developed nations, that is those where people are significantly above the poverty line, food wastage is a result of excess food not eaten, and instead it is thrown away – dumped, binned, wasted, and (2) in developing countries where people are significantly below the poverty line, food wastage is a result of inadequate storage, transportation difficulties, natural destruction (insects, fire, drought, etc.) or trade embargos and political obstacles.

The G20 ministers want a more exact estimate of country-by-country food wastage, research on the economic impact, and research on health, nutrition and wellbeing impacts. They unanimously agreed that it would be preferred if each country’s government adopted a policy of giving food to the hungry (for no cost or low cost) rather than see it unused and wasted.

There are ways of giving food away – it could be to the hungry, or recycling food (using leftovers for other meals), composting food waste to replenish the environment, or conducting food swaps. Overall, the G20 ministers maintained that NGOs in countries are better able to identify appropriate communities or individuals for food give-aways. Others maintain that governments cannot afford the human capital, transport costs, and time required to support giving food to the hungry. They state that it is cheaper to dump it. They also have health concerns about the transport and distribution of food that could cause illness and food poisoning.

On an individual household level, giving food away is possible. But so is appropriate consumerism to reduce the amount of food discarded.

Giving food away to the hungry – is it a solution to the excessive global food wastage or is it too expensive logistically with too many health concerns that perpetuate the problem?

Martina Nicolls

Martina Nicolls

Martina Nicolls specialises in human rights, peace and reconciliation, disaster relief, and aid development, primarily in developing countries, states in transition, and conflict zones. She is the author of four books: The Sudan Curse, Kashmir on a Knife-Edge, Bardot’s Comet and Liberia’s Deadest Ends.

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