Give them bread: Feeding the hungry no longer a science

PHOTO | FILE Families displaced by floods in Magarini in 2012 wait for relief food. Various agencies have proposed simple solutions to reduce food wastage and feed hungry populations using available supplies.

What you need to know:

  • In recent years, drought, low grain stocks and speculation in food stocks have been blamed for widespread hunger across the globe. However, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says food waste could worsen the situation in coming decades if not checked

Over 500 government ministers and diplomats from around the world were among guests invited for a sumptuous meal during a meeting held in Nairobi on February 19, 2012.

On the menu of the five-course meal was yellow lentil commonly known as dal, grilled sweet corn and a variety of vegetables including French Beans. Only this time, something about the meal was different. It had been prepared using ingredients that had been rejected by various UK supermarkets because they were not beautiful enough.

Tristram Stuart, the author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal and founder of Feeding the 5000, had earlier visited several farmers across Kenya to collect the 1,600 kilos of “unwanted” fruit and vegetables and used what he got to prepare the meal that was used to feed the VIPs, who included Kenya’s permanent secretary for Environment, Mr Ali Mohamed.

“The waste of perfectly edible ‘ugly’ vegetables is endemic in our food production systems and symbolises our negligence,” says Mr Stuart, who has been campaigning to reduce food wastage.

Some of the food he collected was also given as donation to local charities such as Msedo School in Nairobi’s Mathare slums.

According to Mr Siago Benedict who runs the school, learners only get a meal a day at the school, but when Mr Stuart made the donation, the school was able to provide a balanced diet of two meals that day.

Because the school did not have sufficient storage capacity, students were allowed to carry some of the food home to share with their families.

Mr Staurt says that apart from the cost implications and environmental impact, food wastage also increases pressure on the already strained global food system.

“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,” Mr Stuart says.

Use the ‘leftovers’

But rather than wring their hands in despair or throw away the rejected food, farmers have learnt to use the ‘leftovers’ to feed pigs, cows and other domestic animals, which are a source of livelihood and which also produce meat or milk which supplement family diets.

In recent years, drought, low grain stocks and speculation in food stocks have been blamed for widespread hunger across the globe. However, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says food waste could worsen the situation in coming decades if not checked.

According to the Unep, food loss and wastage refer to the decrease in mass or nutritional value of food throughout the supply chain that was intended for human consumption.

According to a recent study by FAO, about one third of all food produced worldwide gets lost or is wasted in either production or consumption stages, amounting to 1.3 billion tonnes annually. Unep and FAO estimate this to cost about $1 trillion.

The report says that retailers and consumers discard around 300 million tonnes that is fit for consumption, around half of the total food squandered in industrialised countries. This is more than the total net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 900 million hungry people worldwide. About 239 million of the starving population is to be found in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Wasting food makes no sense — economically, environmentally and ethically,” Unep executive director Achim Steiner said early this year. “To bring about the vision of a truly sustainable world, we need a transformation in the way we produce and consume our natural resources.”

However, not all the food is lost in the production process or in the supply chain; consumers also contribute to rising global hunger and food insecurity through improper storage. Many are the times when they throw away good food.

According to Think. Eat. Save. Reduce Your Food website, simple actions by consumers and food retailers can dramatically cut the amount of food lost or wasted each year.

The campaigners call on consumers to avoid impulse-buying of food, eat food that is already in the fridge before buying more, keep fresh produce in freezers, cook and eat what is bought first, be creative with leftovers for instance using chicken to make sandwiches and donating non-perishable food to children’s homes or shelters.

As experts renew their calls for increased production to stem hunger in Kenya and other developing countries, the World Hunger Education Service points that the world produces enough food for everyone.

Their data indicates that agriculture alone produces about 17 per cent extra calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 per cent growth in population globally.

Indigenous food

Unep is also urging families in Africa to use indigenous food preservation methods. For instance in Nigeria, garri, which is produced from cassava tubers is peeled, washed then grated or pounded. It is later fermented and roasted for long-term storage.

In western Kenya, maize is dried then stored using ash to keep it free of weevils and aflotoxin. Such methods are particularly effective in areas without constant supply of electricity or with a high supply of food that can be preserved using these methods.