Thursday 30th October 2014                 Change text size:

We must improve the efficiency of food production



Photo: sporkist via Flickr

Last week’s report on global food waste highlights a key opportunity to improving both current and future global food security, writes Paul West of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

As a recent study by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers estimates, between 30-50% of the food produced never reaches the plate. That’s more than enough food to meet the needs of the billion people that are chronically malnourished or hungry.

To produce a similar amount of food to that which we currently waste would require either drastically improving yields for all major crops by intensifying management, or greatly expanding agriculture. Both approaches come at environmental costs related to water use and quality, climate change and habitat loss.

There will always be some waste. Granted, we’ll never use every skin from every potato that’s ever peeled; but there is major room for improvement.

Although a similar amount of food is wasted across the world, where that loss occurs within the supply chain varies from place to place. Food waste in developing countries is mainly driven by poor storage facilities or during transportation of fresh goods from farm to market. Most waste in industrialised countries typically happens in the food service, retail and consumer end of the supply chain.

Reducing waste is one of the big solutions for meeting the projected needs of a growing population, a changing diet, and additional appetite for biofuels.

The 1.1-2.2 billion tonnes of food waste is similar to research my colleagues I presented in Nature in 2011, which estimated that a similar amount of additional calories could be available by either increasing yields everywhere for 16 major crops to within 75-95% of their current potential or shifting to a vegan diet.

Although a suite of strategies will be need to meet future demand, a great place to start is improving the efficiency of the food we already produce.

Paul West is chief collaboration officer for the Institute on the Environment’s Global Landscapes Initiative at the University of Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter: @coolfireconserv.

Further reading:

World wasting up to half of global food

Nutrients and water: closing yield gaps

Global food system crisis

Current global consumption will lead to “unequal and inhospitable future”

Agricultural responsible investment principles set for consultation


Register with Blue and Green

To leave a comment on this article, fill in your details below to register, alternatively if you are already registered you can login here







Subscribe for our Newsletter

nine − = 0

A password will be e-mailed to you.


Latest poll

Do you buy ethical/organic/fairtrade products?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...