According to Brabeck-Letmathe, the huge amount of food lost or wasted globally contributes significantly to water overuse. Writing in his latest blog, he said: “Present wastage is the equivalent of more than 1,000 cubic kilometres of freshwater abstracted per year, i.e. close to 25% of total estimated global withdrawals for human use in 2005.”

He stressed: “This is particularly important as water, and the rapidly growing gap between withdrawals and sustainable supply, will be by far the most critical chokepoint for global food supply security for the next 10-20 years.”

According to various reports, about one-third of today’s food losses occur in advanced economies and two-thirds in developing countries. As edie has reported previously, this waste is accentuated by food retailers imposing strict standards on suppliers relating to the size, colour and shape of certain crops and fruit.

Brabeck-Letmathe maintains that these type of ‘negative trends’ need to be urgently addressed and linked more holistically to water issues.

“Whenever strategies are designed to bring freshwater withdrawals back into line with sustainable supply, policies and initiatives reversing negative trends and enabling a significant reduction of loss and waste of food must be included,” he said.

Improving infrastructure

To start addressing the issue, Brabeck-Letmathe said that within advanced economies key stakeholder groups such as farmers, traders, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers should ‘carefully look at their supply chain and processes’.

Meanwhile in developing countries, there is an urgent need to improve infrastructure. “This will be a key item on the agenda of the G20 meeting of heads of state and government in Australia this year,” Brabeck-Letmathe revealed.

Resourcing of infrastructure is a key issue – Nestlé’s own research estimates that an investment of $2.5-3trn in emerging and developing economies will be needed over the period 2005-2050 for cold and dry post-harvest storage, rural roads, wholesale market facilities and first-stage processing.

“This is high, but seems affordable. And even if only half of the $750bn global food loss and wastage per year… could be avoided with these investments, the payback time seems reasonably short,” Brabeck-Letmathe said.

Forced consumption

Again, he noted a role for industry – not only to reduce any remaining waste in operations, but to help modernise the food supply chain, in view of the increasing number of people who will be living in cities and the lengthier transport times this will involve to get from farm to fork.

Citing milk transportation as an example, Brabeck-Letmathe said that Studies by the Food & Agriculture Organisation show an 18% loss in traditional fresh milk supply chains to urban centres in developing countries, due to spillage and spoilage.

“Depending on the season, these losses can be up to 50% due to forced consumption, because traditional buyers do not reach dairy farmers.

“In comparison … losses in our Nestlé supply chain from milk farmer to retail are below 0.6%, for instance in the climatic conditions of Pakistan and over very long distances. There, the milk-shed where we collect milk from smallholder farmers extends over an area with a total surface twice the size of Switzerland.”

Maxine Perella

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