Jamaicans love food bad and tend to believe that “before good food waste, mek belly buss.“ Unfortunately, we can do better with food loss and food waste. Food loss refers to losses during production as a result of natural disasters, untrained personnel or inadequate infrastructure and resources. Food waste is about consumers' disposal of edible food that is bought and discarded because of spoilage, expiration or to make space for newly purchased items.

The World Food Programme estimates that human beings annually waste a staggering 1.3 billion tons of food, worth US $1 trillion. That is one third of all food produced for human consumption globally. This wasted food could feed twice the number of undernourished people across the globe (about two billion). Such wasted food would represent the third largest carbon producer, behind the USA and China, if it were a country.

We might be tempted to blame the richest countries for this issue. However, developing countries also contribute to food loss and food waste. Developing countries contribute to food loss in the post-harvest and processing stages of the man-made food cycle. Food waste of developed nations, on the other hand, occurs at retail and consumer levels. Each category contributes to wasting approximately 40% of food at their respective stages.  In 2019, a Forbes article marked Latin America and the Caribbean with the highest food waste carbon footprint in the developing world, amounting to US $7 billion (UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, 2023). It is estimated that Jamaica wastes 20-30% of food produced each year.

Aside from the morality of wasting food when so many go hungry, food waste also contributes to environmental decline. Food is a common waste item sent to landfills, where it produces large amounts of the greenhouse gas methane. Compared to carbon dioxide, methane is 25% more effective at trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and helping to increase global temperatures. Roughly 70 percent of the world’s freshwater resources is used in food production for human consumption, so food wasted is water wasted. Potable water is already one of the globe’s most exploited natural resources, with many in developing nations not having access for personal use due to agricultural practices aimed at foreign consumer markets.

Wasted food also contributes to land deterioration. To keep up with a rising population, arable land is cleared and deforested for the rearing of livestock, making it unfit for crop production. Cleared land also destroys the natural biodiversity, resulting in species loss, and the practice disrupts natural renewal mechanisms that keep the land fertile. 

So what can we do to reduce food loss/waste and reduce our moral and environmental impacts? At home, we can cut down on food waste and make groceries last longer by sticking to a strict shopping list. Avoid buying in bulk. It is convenient, but often leads to buying more than you need and wasting food. Food storage is another consideration when reducing waste. Some fruits and vegetables go bad faster than others because of ethylene gas. Fruits like bananas and avocados produce more of it, so keep them away from ethylene-sensitive items like potatoes and leafy greens to prevent premature spoilage.

And don't forget about leftovers! Instead of letting them go to waste, store them in clear containers so you'll remember to eat them later. Plus, having a leftover night saves you time and money on cooking from scratch. Lastly, composting is a great way to recycle food scraps and give back to your plants.

The Caribbean Biodiversity Fund is actively promoting its Nature-Based Economies Programme that tackles waste issues like food loss and waste. Their initiative aims to enhance t agricultural sectors by moving towards a regenerative food production cycle. That will benefit nature by improving soil health and local biodiversity. The CBF Programme is also raising awareness among stakeholders in the supply chain about sustainable opportunities. Farmers and fishers can contribute by harvesting at optimal times and using best tools, while distributors and manufacturers can use technology to minimize waste. Our individual and collective action can reduce food loss/waste and improve water and food security in the region. That will certainly help meet the United Nations goal of reducing food waste/loss by half by 2030.

You may also be interested in