Food security and waste

Waste in Latin America’s food supply chain is a global concern.

Latin America is one of the world’s largest food producing regions so waste in its supply chain has global repercussions. The Inter-American Development Bank (“IDB”) recently hosted the Summit for the Reduction of Food Wastage and Losses with the aim of shedding light on this increasingly important problem. Food waste also has a direct impact on food security in Latin America, where more than 59 million people live in hunger according to the Pan-American Health Organisation (“PAHO”).

Despite the scale of the problem, with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (“FAO”) estimates that between 14% and 17% of global food production is wasted, there is very little data from Latin American countries. However, the FAO estimates that the region wastes 12% of food produced at a cost of USD 150 billion and that the Bahamas, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago and Colombia could feed their entire population from wasted food!

A researcher at the Ethos Laboratorio de Políticas Públicas think tank in Mexico estimates that the situation could be much worse in some countries, “We estimate that around a third of food produced in Mexico is wasted, with more than 60% of food waste occurring in households. In a country, where some people still suffer from food poverty is incredible. Despite this, there is little awareness of food waste or reuse and even in best cases waste food is just used for animal feed. The government doesn’t seem to care: there are no awareness campaigns and no regulations, it is not a legal issue. Only the elite talk about it, because it is a global issue that they can talk about with their international peers.”

“We estimate that around a third of food produced in Mexico is wasted, with more than 60% of food waste occurring in households.”

Researcher, Ethos Laboratorio de Políticas Públicas, Mexico

A food waste consultant in Argentina illustrated the scale of the problem, “This is a huge issue, Argentina is one of the largest food producers in the world but 40% of the population are hungry, it’s immoral! Problems exist throughout the entire supply chain, it’s not just about the final foods being consumed, but about being more efficient throughout the entire chain. The figures I have indicate that 28% of losses occur in the production stage, just over 15% in the distribution stage, between 20 and 25% in storage, and 5% in the processing stage. There is room for improvement everywhere.”

Solving the food waste challenge will not be simple. According to the waste consultant, “You have to invest in infrastructure, processes and technology, establish appropriate regulatory frameworks, create incentives, generate alliances between the public and private sectors, educate the population, raise awareness and ultimately change our food culture. Some of this is happening in Argentina but as always, a lack of resource means it happens slowly.”

“You have to invest in infrastructure, processes and technology, establish appropriate regulatory frameworks, create incentives, generate alliances between the public and private sectors, educate the population, raise awareness and ultimately change our food culture.”

Food waste consultant, Argentina

The IDB’s ‘Sin Desperdicio’ (“Waste Not”) campaign, launched in 2019, highlighted that food loss took place across the supply chain from production, processing and transportation. The IDB pointed to the lack of information as one of the main reasons for the governments’ failure to tackle the problem.

In some municipalities, food banks and similar organisations have stepped in to prevent some of this food waste. In Chile, Red de Alimentos launched a mobile app, Red Virtual, in which supermarkets can inform the organisation about food items that can be collected for free rather than being wasted. Using the scheme, the organisation distributes 100 tonnes of food every month. Similarly, the aggrotech application Perfekto sells ‘imperfect’ food baskets in Mexico City and has already avoided the disposal of 5,000kg of food. The future of these apps will depend on their capacity to expand to new products, such as packaged meals and beverages and the aptness to broaden their geographic operations.

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