Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wasteful capitalism

Food grown by Kenyan farmers is rejected by UK supermarkets due to cosmetic imperfections. Some of this unwanted produce is sold on the local market or donated, but the quantities are so large that local markets cannot handle the volume and so much of it is either left to rot or fed to livestock - prompting resentment amongst Kenyan farmers who must bear the costs themselves.

 "It's a scandal that so much food is wasted in a country with millions of hungry people; we found one grower supplying a UK supermarket who is forced to waste up to 40 tonnes of vegetables every week, which is 40 per cent of what he grows," protested Tristram Stuart, food waste author.

In industrialized regions, almost half of the total food squandered, around 300 million tonnes annually, occurs because producers, retailers and consumers discard food that is still fit for consumption. This is more than the total net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa, and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million people hungry in the world.

A maize small-holder farmer in Southeast Asia may lose up to 30 percent of his crop each year to mold, rodents, and insects due to a lack of dry storage equipment. A vegetable farmer in India may lose the same percentage of her crop due to deficiencies in cold storage infrastructure, such as facilities to sort out the food and store it and keep it fresh. A rice farmer in Vietnam may lose grain at multiple steps between harvest and market. That person may lose a bit at harvest, a bit more at storage, and even more during transportation. Each of these steps may lead to only a small percentage in grain loss. But those losses add up. The rice farmer may be looking at anywhere between 10 and 37 percent in losses by the time the grain reaches the marketplace.

You have farmers in developing countries that often do not have a fast and dependable way to get food to the consumer. You have inefficient transportation due to lack of roads or poor quality transport vehicles that pose numerous challenges for moving fruits, vegetables, and other perishable food from farm to market. In most of the world, in fact, refrigerated vehicles are not available or practical. You have produce moved in open, un-refrigerated trucks, leading to food loss, infestation, and contamination well before it reaches its destination.

Access to processing and storage equipment is also lacking. Unless equipment is manufactured locally, farmers can have a hard time finding what they need in the domestic market. Processing equipment that can dry high protein beans and legumes or turn soy beans into soy milk greatly transforms and extends the life of a product, as well as to increase its value, but is not always available or even affordable to smallholder farmers. In many developing countries, even if equipment is available, without accessible maintenance services and spare parts, this equipment may not be useful long-term.

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