G-20 Agriculture Ministers Warn of Global Food Wastage

13 May 2015

Agriculture ministers from the G-20 group of major advanced and emerging economies have warned that global food wastage could have devastating consequences for food security, nutrition, and the use of natural resources and the environment, following a 7-8 May meeting in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

“We highlight this as a global problem of enormous economic, environmental, and societal significance and encourage all G-20 members to strengthen their efforts to address it,” they said in their final communiqué.

With the global population set to hit nine billion by 2050, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that global food supply must increase by at least 60 percent to meet this higher demand. Members of the G-20 produced 68.7 percent of the world’s food in 2013.

However, feeding this growing population is becoming increasingly challenging, due partly to the impact of food waste and loss, referred to together as wastage, as well as the impact of climate change and the pressures being placed on natural resources and biodiversity.

While ministers made various statements of support for action and concern over the current state of affairs – along with reaffirming several existing commitments in this area – further clarity on what new, concrete actions they may take could emerge at the November G-20 leaders’ summit in Anatalya, Turkey.

Ministers have asked that their deputies work with the Development Working Group (DWG) to build on their conclusions from the Istanbul meet, as well as the recommendations from a separate Implementation Plan, into an “action plan” that G-20 leaders can sign off on in Anatalya.

This “G-20 Action Plan on Food Security/Sustainable Food Systems” would be geared toward helping both members of the G-20 group as well as low-income developing countries.

Repurposing versus recovering

In combatting food wastage, ministers also said that the priority should be placed on ensuring that “safe and nutritious otherwise wasted food” be recovered to feed those in need of it, as well as preventing its wastage in the first place. This approach, they said, should take precedent repurposing it for other uses, though the agriculture officials did not specify what types of uses these involved.

However, to ensure that “interventions” are better targeted, agriculture ministers last week called for improving current data and estimates on food loss and waste, as well as their effects and causes.

In this vein, ministers has asked that the FAO, together with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and other international organisations in this area, set up a platform that would help in sharing information and experiences in this area, both in quantifying and cutting the levels of food wastage.

“There is value in a common definitional and measurement framework that G-20 members can consider in order to establish coherent estimates of food loss and waste against which they can monitor progress in the reduction of food loss and waste,” they said.

Estimates from the FAO have placed annual food loss or waste at up to 1.3 billion tonnes, according to 2013 data. Furthermore, this wasted food is responsible for adding 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, while the producers of wasted food, with the exception of fish and seafood, face economic losses of US$750 billion annually.

Reducing losses, boosting productivity

According to the FAO, over half of food wastage occurs during production, post-harvest handling, and storage, with the remainder occurring during the processing, distribution, and consumption stages.

“Most important from the US perspective is acknowledging the importance of reducing post-harvest loss and food waste and the positive effect that can have on increasing food security,” said US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement following the Istanbul meeting.

Along with improving the estimates of food wastage and reducing the amounts lost, ministers also stressed the role that sustainable food and agricultural systems could play in meeting the challenge of global food security and nutrition. Doing so would include, for example, ensuring that small producers adopt improved techniques and technologies that would allow for productivity gains.

Improved productivity, they said, could help in rural job creation and boosting rural incomes, particularly for women and youth. Investment throughout the food value chain could also help with both more productivity and less food wastage.

The ministers tied this in to the G-20’s overall “inclusive” growth agenda, given that the coalition’s members committed last year to boost GDP above current trajectories by 2.1 percent by 2018, amounting to an estimated US$2.1 trillion boost. These would be executed via national action plans, which were publicly released by each member economy during last November’s summit in Brisbane. (See Bridges Weekly, 20 November 2014)

“Our fundamental shared challenge is this: how can we increase production while respecting our natural resources and reducing waste – how can we produce more, using less?” said EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan during the meeting, according to a copy of his remarks.

Doha Round

The agriculture officials also referred to the importance of the multilateral trading system in ensuring global food security, citing the need to “promptly” conclude the Doha Round trade talks as well as ensuring a successful WTO Ministerial Conference this December in Nairobi, Kenya.

WTO members are in the process of negotiating a “work programme” that would outline a way to resolve the Doha talks, with the deadline for elaborating such a plan set for 31 July. Those talks, however, have reportedly been moving slowly, raising questions of whether this deadline will be met and what this would mean for the December conference. (See Bridges Weekly, 7 May 2015)

G-20 agriculture ministers also called on FAO, the World Health Organization (WHO), and other relevant organisations to help boost the capacities of standard-setting bodies, citing specifically the Codex Alimentarius, the Intergovernmental Plant Protection Convention (IPCC), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), in providing scientific health and guidance, in a possible implicit reference to the issue of sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS).

Under the WTO, trade measures taken to protect food safety and animal and plant health, known as SPS measures, must be based on recognised international standards, particularly those of the above-mentioned agencies, along with meeting other requirements.

Post-2015 process

The preparations for November’s G-20 leaders’ meet comes as UN members work to finalise a post-2015 development agenda, together with a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in time for a summit this September.

Last week’s communiqué did not refer explicitly to either the post-2015 or the SDG process; however, FAO Director José Graziano da Silva did raise the importance of implementing the G-20 Food Security and Nutrition Framework as part of ensuring the success of this new agenda.

“The change from MDGs to SDGs is about much more than a change in just one letter,” he said during the Istanbul meeting, with MDGs referring to the current Millennium Development Goals, set to expire this year. “It is about making the bold commitment to end hunger, malnutrition, and extreme poverty.”

ICTSD reporting.

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