Food loss and waste, including postharvest losses, represent both a major global challenge and an opportunity for improved resource use through value addition. This programme aims to measure food loss and waste, develop technical solutions, assess upgrading opportunities and provide guidance to researchers and practitioners. The Programme has an associated Centre for Food Loss and Waste Reduction (FLoW).
The importance of food loss and waste reduction to achieving a sustainable global future is recognised in SDG 12 ‘Responsible, Consumption and Production’, with the target, by 2030, of halving per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses (SDG target 12.3). Attaining this goal can also profoundly impact upon the achievement of SDG 2, ‘Zero Hunger’, and several other SDGs.
NRI has found over many years of work in this field of research that food loss and waste is a complex and multi-faceted challenge. Losses and waste are difficult to define, measure and tackle. Changing patterns of economic development, rural-urban migration and behavioural responses by consumers to new food concepts, impact society and economies at all levels. In less developed economies, food losses can be higher and have a greater impact than food waste, but this situation is changing with economic and market development.
Food loss and waste reduction can also present opportunities for technical and management innovation to add value and encourage better use of existing resources. However, we have found that context is important, and the outcomes of systemic change are unpredictable. Improved use of by-products can add value to a chain, but before embarking on these new uses, care is needed to ensure that no vulnerable groups are dependent upon that waste. Improving food standards can benefit some consumers at the expense of others. Dramatic increases in supply bought about by reduced losses can have unexpected price effects on producers.
Our research and practice in this area has revealed the scope and extent of the problem and developed a range of technical, practical and theoretical solutions. These have been taken up mainly in low- and middle-income countries particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. We have focused our work on rural and peri-urban agriculture, durable and perishable commodities, on pre- and post-harvest causal factors and on specific points within value chains such as production, harvesting, drying, processing, storage, marketing and consumption. We target a wide range of beneficiaries at different stages of the value chain with an emphasis on small-scale producers and SMEs. NRI emphasises the importance of addressing the under-researched impacts and potential benefits of actions related to FLW on the poor and vulnerable, particularly girls and women.