by Aaron Sydor
Conflict, supply disruption, rising prices, and shortages are all impacting food supplies globally. Just as we are nearing some form of recovery from the pandemic, we are now facing another global challenge in the form of a food crisis – and it’s likely to get worse.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) tells us that 349 million people face acute food insecurity this year — an increase from 287 million people in 2021. It is a tragedy that when the world is “hungrier than ever,” as the WFP calls it, so much food goes to waste. One-third of food production, or 1.3 billion tons per year, goes to waste globally, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. It is inconceivable, then, that we don’t make the most of the food that we have.
This is a regional problem that cannot be solved by individual economies acting on their own. It must be looked at with a wider lens, such as through bodies, like APEC, that promote regional economic cooperation. APEC members acknowledge that all areas of the agri-food value chain are interdependent and that there is a need for a whole-system approach.
Among the forum’s efforts to reduce food waste is the Food Security Roadmap Towards 2030 which aims to establish an open, fair, transparent, productive, sustainable and resilient APEC food system. This corresponds to the UN and other multilateral goals by taking action through the following avenues: digital transformation; productivity and international trade; sustainability; public-private partnerships; and inclusivity, especially in the inclusion of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) along the agri-food value chain.
For more on this topic, download “Enhancing Green MSMEs’ Competitiveness for a Sustainable and Inclusive Asia-Pacific: Food Sector Waste Reduction in Food Supply Chain.” [Archived PDF]
In my capacity as the Chair of APEC’s Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group, I’d like to stress the importance of the latter: inclusivity and small business. MSMEs account for over 97 percent of all business in APEC economies and employ over half of the workforce. Any strategy for reducing food wastage will have to involve the wholesale participation of the region’s smaller businesses.
This is easier written than done. For one thing, fit-for-purpose data is scarce. No APEC economy has food waste data that is specific to MSMEs. And while all have policies and measures to address the problem of food waste, there are no large-scale direct MSME–food waste reduction targets, policies or plans. Few have tried to reduce MSME food waste in the retail food and food service industries. Supermarkets, food storage facilities or warehouses in many APEC economies aren’t required to donate excesses.
Most entrepreneurs aren’t even aware of the problem, or underestimate its true cost. Those who do understand have limited options or capital, and are unable to find cost-effective solutions to create value out of food waste, and face problems with logistics and transportation. On top of this, there are few to no regulatory frameworks to guide them. From a technology perspective, a majority of APEC economies utilize modern technologies, including mobile applications, to reduce or manage MSME food waste/surplus food, but these modern technologies are used only by large companies in big cities.
Amid these challenges are an abundance of opportunities to help MSMEs reduce food waste. Training, policies and guidelines can aid them in improving profits by reducing costs and increasing the value added of food. They can reduce their carbon footprint, which enhances consumer demand, and divert waste to new products or bioenergy.
A November study by the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group presents case studies, identifies the best available data on food waste for MSMEs, and identifies several best practices for economies in dealing with food waste through MSME policy.
In one section, the study’s authors analyze a case study of a successful MSME, and identify four key factors contributing to its successful reduction of food waste: 1) creating a network of people — e.g., a community surrounding a farm; 2) using innovation and technology to facilitate farming and save time; 3) producing knowledge and providing it through several channels — e.g., a learning and training center, friendly guide books; and 4) considering the environment at every step of the process.
The paper, called “Enhancing Green MSMEs’ Competitiveness for a Sustainable and Inclusive Asia-Pacific: Food Sector Waste Reduction in Food Supply Chain,” [Archived PDF] is extensive and easily doubles as a handbook for anyone interested in MSME food waste, or the problem of food waste in general. It is a great example of what can be achieved when economies combine knowledge and resources in the pursuit of keeping the region inclusive, prosperous, and fed.
Aaron Sydor is the Chair of the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group.