Food for thought

The dichotomy of obesity and food security in Peru.

Poverty levels in Peru reached 20.2% of a population of 32 million prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic according to Sustainability, a non-profit NGO in consultative status with the UN which recently drew attention to high levels of food waste in the country. In contrast, the country’s 2020 national demographic survey reported an alarming rise in childhood and female obesity.

Peru loses 12.8 tonnes of food, 47.6% of its national production, between manufacturing and the consumer distribution chain. The amount of food wasted, 67.34 kilos per person annually, has the potential to tackle the serious nutritional problems that the poor experience in the country.

A professor of nutrition explained, “There is a food security issue in Peru, the underlying problems are education and the transportation of food and drinking water – if you don’t have drinking water or electricity for a refrigerator, you can’t store or wash your food. With regards to rising levels of obesity and food waste, the root cause is education but it has also been made worse by the pandemic where people are not moving around as much and distribution networks are more fragile.”

“There is a food security issue in Peru, the underlying problems are education and the transportation of food and drinking water.”

Professor of nutrition, Peru

The government continues to be focused on campaigns to increase the consumption of products with a high nutritional value. For example, in March 2021, it launched the “A comer pescado” (let’s eat fish) campaign, coordinated by the Ministry of Production in collaboration with companies in the fishing industry, through which 161,000 families purchased 251 tonnes of fish. The Professor of nutrition added, “We also have a national food bank that partners with supermarkets to ensure food isn’t wasted but this isn’t as efficient as in the UK because there isn’t a supermarket in every town or village. The main policy failure has been in education, there have been very few campaigns targeted at the general population.”

The high levels of waste of food in Peru are caused by the lack of proper infrastructure and use of appropriate technologies, deficiencies in the cold chain and poor condition or lack of roads. Academics suggest that innovation in short food supply chains, short marketing circuits, intelligent food logistics and a better rural road connectivity would significantly reduce the amount of food lost and wasted in the country.

A food distribution consultant explained, “We need to rethink processes and the use of technology to our advantage. Cooperation with the private sector is crucial, large food companies have supply chains for production, distribution and sales and working with small companies and local producers will also help alleviate food poverty and incentivise the economy. Infrastructure is always a problem when it comes to transportation in large territories such as Peru but technology can help alleviate this challenge. Innovation is key.”

“We need to rethink processes and use technology to our advantage. Cooperation with the private sector is crucial.”

Food distribution consultant, Peru

The Professor of nutrition agreed, “Food preservation techniques need to be strengthened, either with modern technology or with ancestral techniques such as desalination, dehydration etc. Even keeping the fish on ice would be a helpful innovation for some communities.”

Peru, where the food industry amounts to 22% of GDP, has one of the highest per capita amounts of food waste in the world. Consumers have not pushed to improve trading standards, aesthetic requirements nor regulations on food safety, which cause significant amounts of food loss and waste.

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