Cutting our losses? Learning from food waste in China

The fact that a third of all food grown globally never gets eaten is astonishing.  But it also suggests one simple solution to meeting future food demand under climate change: eliminate food waste and there will be far less pressure on land, water, energy and biodiversity, plus huge greenhouse gas mitigation benefits.

Can we do it? Useful insight comes from the recent journal article Food losses and waste in China and their implication for water and land by Junguo Liu, Jan Lundqvist, Josh Weinberg and Josephine Gustafsson. China offers widely relevant lessons on food waste, because its food system shares characteristics of both high-income countries (long-distance supply chains with few intermediaries) and low-income countries (many under-resourced small-scale farmers).

The challenge of feeding 21% of the world’s population with 6% of global water and 9% of arable land suggests that efficiency gains will be high on Chinese policy agendas. So it is not surprising that China discards less food than the average country: Junguo and colleagues calculate a food loss rate1 of 19% (+/-5%) for food overall, which primarily comprises grains. However the sheer size of China means that this cereal wastage equals 56% of Africa’s annual production.

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