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We Grow Enough Food. Getting It On To People’s Plates Is The Problem.

We Grow Enough Food. Getting It On To People’s Plates Is The Problem. thumbnail

World leaders have agreed to the ambitious goal of eradicating hunger by 2030. The scale of the problem is daunting. Every day 800 million people go to bed with empty stomachs and more than 8,000 children die needlessly from conditions linked to under-nutrition. And by the time we reach 2030, the global population is likely to include an additional 1.5 billion mouths to feed.

With these kinds of numbers, it is hard to believe we live in a world of plenty and we actually produce enough to feed every hungry person on earth. It is horrifying to think that one third of the food produced in the world is never consumed due to loss or waste.

When we think of food waste in the developed world, we think of consumable food thrown out of supermarkets, restaurants and homes. In the developing world, it is a different issue. Food is lost before it even gets to the market. Grain losses in sub-Saharan Africa alone are worth up to US$4 billion a year – enough to provide the minimum food requirements of at least 48 million people.

Food losses occur at every stage of the agricultural value chain

If fruit is not boxed properly during harvest, it can be ruined. If maize and beans are not dried sufficiently – all too common with the current climate variability – they may develop fungus or aflatoxins. If grains are not stored securely, they could become infested with rats or weevils. With unreliable transportation and lack of decent roads, perishable food that left the farm edible and sellable, can spoil en route to market.

The World Bank estimates that if these post-harvest losses were reduced by only one per cent just in sub-Saharan Africa, there would be economic gains of up to US$40 million each year.

This doesn’t even take into account the limited natural resources that are being wasted in the production of food that will never be eaten. Annually up to 173 billion cubic meters of increasingly scarce water (almost a quarter of all water used for agriculture) and about 1.4 billion hectares of land (close to 30 per cent of available agricultural land) is used to grow food that is subsequently lost or wasted.

The magnitude of food loss is alarming. And yet, the solutions can be relatively simple.

In Timor-Leste, for example, almost half the population lives below the poverty line and up to 60 per cent of children are malnourished. The annual “hungry season”, when food is hard to come by, lasts more than five months. Low crop productivity has long been a problem. Yet local farmers surprised scientists by resisting the adoption of higher yielding maize seeds. As farmers were already losing 30 per cent of their stored maize every year to rodents and weevils, increasing productivity was not their priority.

This problem of inadequate storage presented an enormous opportunity. It showed the potential for people to access almost a third more food – equivalent to about 360 kilograms of grain per farming household – without increasing their production.

A farmer in Timor-Leste receives a grain storage drum
©IFAD/Ron Hartman

A pilot project supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) tested the impact of low-cost storage equipment. The project distributed 42,000 airtight storage drums, paid in part by the farmers who received them. Farmers who used the drums to store their grains reduced their losses from 30 per cent to one per cent, potentially halving the duration of future “hungry seasons”. The anticipated increase in their annual incomes is nearly 300 per cent.

Once the farmers were provided with better storage facilities, they also became more interested in adopting higher-yielding seeds because the storage allows them to sell their surplus for greater profit in the off-season.

That is just one simple example.

What can we do?

If the global community is serious about achieving a hunger-free world, we need to prioritize finding solutions to food loss along the entire agricultural value chain.

  • We need to increase investments in drying, storage and processing facilities for grains and perishable crops, and in decent roads and market access for people to sell their produce before it is lost.
  • We need to train engineers to design suitable facilities and equipment that are locally adapted, easily maintained and accessible by farmers.
  • We need to build more agricultural cooperatives and farmers groups so that farmers can collectively invest in and maintain equipment, lower the cost of threshing, drying, milling and storage facilities and aggregate their produce for secure transportation to market.
  • We need to ensure that farmers and farmer groups are able to access rural financial packages so that they can invest in food loss reduction.

Right now, many farmers are selling their produce as quickly as possible – even directly from the field – to minimize loss. But if they have the knowledge and equipment to avoid losses, they can store their crops until prices are higher and even start processing them to add value. When food losses are minimized, the world’s 500 million small farms will produce enough excess yields to become sustainable businesses. And when that happens, we won’t just eliminate extreme hunger by 2030 – we will be on our way to eliminating extreme poverty as well.


18 Comments on "We Grow Enough Food. Getting It On To People’s Plates Is The Problem."

  1. HARM on Mon, 29th Aug 2016 1:00 pm 

    “We Grow Enough Food. Getting It On To People’s Plates Is The Problem.”

    Categorically, factually wrong. We have about 6.5 billion to 7 billion more people than this planet can sustainably support –assuming a reasonable level of technological development and western standard of living. Assuming a Bangladeshi standard of living (good luck selling that to Americans, Europeans, Japanese, etc.), well… then maybe Earth might sustainably support ~2 billion.

    However you slice it, we’re way beyond the carrying capacity of this planet. Trying to cut food waste in the supply chain is nice, but will not stop the inevitable consequences of overshoot.

  2. peakyeast on Mon, 29th Aug 2016 1:21 pm 


    We also have enough intelligence – the problem is getting it in the right places.

  3. onlooker on Mon, 29th Aug 2016 1:32 pm 

    Not too worry as we are rapidly reaching and surpassing the ability to grow or produce enough food for everyone

  4. HARM on Mon, 29th Aug 2016 1:51 pm 


    Actually that doesn’t make me worry any less.

  5. onlooker on Mon, 29th Aug 2016 1:58 pm 

    I was being sarcastic Harm

  6. Harm on Mon, 29th Aug 2016 5:05 pm 

    I know 😉

  7. Apneaman on Mon, 29th Aug 2016 6:58 pm 

    There is plenty of food if you have a best friend………….good boy…….Mmmmmm

    Dining on Dogs in Yulin: VICE Reports (Full Length)

    it’s that kinda world

  8. makati1 on Mon, 29th Aug 2016 7:53 pm 

    Ap, maybe another prep would be a Newfoundland dog or two? They weigh in at about 120 to 150 pounds, can be a good watchdog, until …

  9. JuanP on Mon, 29th Aug 2016 7:58 pm 

    “World leaders have agreed to the ambitious goal of eradicating hunger by 2030.”

    Remember the “Millennium Goals”? LOL! We were supposed to erradicate hunger by 2015. We failed miserably. Politicians have been talking about crap like this since before I was born. Empty talk is all this is. In the future hunger and starvation will increase rather than decrease. You’d better learn how to grow food now before you need to. It takes a while to learn how to do it; it is not as easy as you might think.

  10. Apneaman on Mon, 29th Aug 2016 10:38 pm 

    Let Them Eat Twinkies

    “Things are looking so good for poor people that between 500,000 and 1,000,000 of them are being dropped from SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp program, this year. Some 20 states are reinstating the three-month limit on benefits to adults 18-49 who are not disabled or raising children. Thus freed from a crippling dependency on government handouts, these poorest of the poor are doing much better now, many of them actually motivated to go out and create jobs — in the field of heroin marketing, for example.

    Surprisingly, it turns out there’s a downside to cutting Food Stamp benefits. It has been a serious blow to the sales of WalMart and Dollar General Stores — the sector of the retail market known as the Bottom Feeders. In addition to the fact that the employees of these stores need Food Stamps to survive (witness WalMart’s warm-hearted annual drive to collect canned SpaghettiOs so their employees and their families can have a Christmas Dinner), it turns out that the stores also need Food Stamps to survive.”

  11. Apneaman on Mon, 29th Aug 2016 10:41 pm 

    Free Trade and Food Security

    “Earlier, I wrote about the effects of free trade on its victims in the Irish Famine. Most people are aware by now that Ireland was a net exporter of food at the peak of the famine, even while many people were starving to death. How was this possible? It was all due to the “free market,” in which food goes to the people who can afford it, no matter where they are, rather than the people who need it, even if they produce it themselves. Giving aid to starving people would create a “culture of dependency”; the exact same rhetoric you hear today about giving aid the the victims of globalization.

    I hadn’t realized that Ireland was not the only case of free trade ideas causing the deaths of millions of people during this period. The British also used their Indian colony as a laboratory for the ideas of Adam Smith with even more disastrous results:

    Unidentified British Male: “If you talk about atrocities committed in the colonial period by the British Empire most people would just stare at you blankly. They have no idea what you’re talking about. If you talk about Stalin‘s atrocities, they’re fully apprised of those. But Lord Lytton, in India, probably killed as many people as Stalin did, by very similar methods, exporting grain in the midst of a famine, huge, huge quantities of grain, often from places where there was a surplus of production, a very successful harvest, and engineered a famine in which tens of millions of people died. But we hear nothing of this. We know nothing of this.”

    NICHOLAS WOODESON (narrator): “How many British students learn about the work of the historian Mark Curtis? Drawing on formerly secret UK government files, he estimates that Britain is complicit in the deaths of over ten million people from countries around the world since 1945.”

  12. noobtube on Mon, 29th Aug 2016 11:03 pm 

    PeakOil has a lot of “white man right”- “everyone else wrong”-articles lately. It is boring and predictable.

  13. makati1 on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 12:52 am 

    As I have been saying, Filipinos ha=ve an advantage that Americans no longer enjoy…

    “The situation Americans face in the future will be nothing like anything they have experienced in the past. While we have seen old footage and heard stories about the Great Depression (starting in 1929), we have no idea how bad things really were during the 1930’s.

    At that time, approximately 25% of the American population were farmers. Thus, when things really got bad, folks in the cities could move out and stay with their families or relatives on the country farm. This is not an option for most Americans today as only 2% of the population are farmers and ranchers”

    Farmers are still about 30% of the Philippine population according to World Bank Stats. Also, they will not miss oil much if it goes away. And their families can move back to the farm, like in the US in the 30s.

    “MANILA, Philippines—Filipino farmers use the equivalent in power of a small electric fan per hectare of farmland.

    That’s because the Philippines has one of the lowest rates of mechanical equipment use in Southeast Asia—at half a horsepower (.5 hp) per hectare (hp/ha), according to newly installed Philippine Center for Post-harvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) Executive Director Rex Bingabing.”

    Who will suffer most?

  14. Apneaman on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 1:25 am 

    So everyone in metro Manila (Population 2015 census 12,877,253) just recently moved to the city from the family farm? 101 million Filipinos will all live and eat from the non fossil fuled and fertilized family farms huh? It don’t matter how much mechanization they use now. All that matters is when it’s all gone. At that point it is at zero. What can be done at zero fossil fuel inputs is what will matter. Once the global order falls and the P’s are on their own, China will totally and brutally dominate that part of the world. Who will stop them? The US? They will have collapsed right?

  15. Davy on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 5:46 am 

    The justice found in balance is poetic.

  16. makati1 on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 6:22 am 

    Ap, Yep. Actually, about 10 million of those live in other countries and may not be able to return. Over 3 million live in the US. Most of those who “live in Manila” have family that own land and farms in the country. Millions of those in the city do not live here. They commute daily from the burbs or provinces. Sure maybe a million or so will have problems but they will cope. This is a family oriented culture and one that will help others in need. I see it everyday. It is not the greedy, every man/woman for themselves culture of the US.

    The Filipino diet is mostly rice and fish. Little of those items are now imported. Most imports are for the millions of foreigners who live here and will go home if they can. Fish farms are increasing all the time. We plan to raise talapia on the farm. No problem.

    Westerners who have not been to this part of the world in the last 5 to 10 years have only the bullshit the US lackeys (CNN, UN, IMF, World Bank, etc.) publish as a guide to conditions or the situation with China. (And Russia)

    I do not fear China, I fear the US meddling here that could cause a war. I worry more about my family in the FSA than my situation here. China has Russia’s resources to gain. There is little in the Ps that they could benefit from. They already own most of it. In drastic times, they will go north, not east.

  17. Davy on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 6:43 am 

    Modern food is a complex topic. It is more than food. Modern food is part economic and part the many and varied variety of inputs that are not related to the local environment. It is about meat production that requires transport, grain input and confinements that are not related to the local. On and on with all other types of food we eat. Articles like this are status quo because they are still looking at what we can do that is more of what we have done that got us to the predicament we are in. This article talks about these efforts because of the ominous direction of population but misses the ominous direction of our modern civilization.

    We need food to be central to all discussions. Like liquid fuels, food is central to modern civilization. The problem is food has lost significance except as another enjoyment or option. We instead talk about diets and culinary arts. We should be looking at food as vital to survival. That was such a profoundly simple statement that reflects a huge disconnect of modern man. We have lost a relationship to food for what it really is. We are habituated to this disconnect. Society has a narrative that food is a given. Of course this is different in the worst of the 3rd world. We generally talk about the global 1BIL or so that live first world and drive the modern economy as consumers. Many in the 3rd world are food insecure already but they have other denial and delusions like family size and being modern if they could.

    Collapse is coming and it will be coming because we will not be able to grow liquid fuels or food. They are both intimately related and the disruption of one will disrupt the other. We really don’t have much of a global food reserve. We have maybe 2 years. After the 1st year there will be dangerous systematic instability. Considering abrupt climate change we are really on thin ice.

    Ideally if we as a modern people came to realize just how bad things are without the denial and delusions of a status quo narrative we would be taking very significant steps at local food security. Everyone would need to be involved and many bad food practices eliminated. This would be hugely disruptive and in itself would disrupt the status quo causing a negative economic event. Yet, this is what needs to be done.

    We have food productivity with modern efforts falling across the board from the oceans to the bread baskets. This is happening for so many reason there will be no fix for it. You can’t continue to grow population when food productivity is in decline. Not only is food productivity in decline but underlying food security is in decline. These are both in decline and under the radar screen of Olive Garden commercials. When a shock does hit and it surely will we will be dumbfounded as a society. When all that denial and delusional living ends in a few weeks or a months, wow what a change that will be.

    I grow food now. I grew corn and soy the industrial way in 2000. I did this on 1000 acres with two partners. I had another job too. My partners were gung-ho industrial AG guys. I got into it thinking I could reform industrial agriculture. I thought I could incorporate new and “nicer” technics into the mix. Instead I got my ass kicked and almost lost a lot of money. I got an education and that was worth it. I worked my ass off for 4 years for nothing. I recovered my investment because the land was good and it had appreciated. It was interesting to generate so much product at harvest and put it up in a silo and then haul it to a Turkey farm or Ethanol plant but it was not rewarding. It was desperation to cover cost with weather and fluctuating prices.

    I am now growing goats and cattle with a bare minimum of inputs on land that is grazed. I consider it permaculture. It is hard work with no money to speak of considering modern life’s standards. I do it for doom, prep and spiritual reasons. If collapse comes the goats will provide food and the cattle cash. I am working hard and in a difficult conditions without enough people. It is rewarding though. I have a connection to my animals. I am them and they are me and we are a part of nature. I also have a variety of wildlife I manage the permaculture way. I may need to draw on them for survival too.

    This is the guts of the picture and it needs to be on everyone plate. Everyone should be doing some kind of food effort and not only the shiny fun kind where we do these little food projects that are fun. We spend lots of money on these projects driving to them in our Subaru and drinking our Starbucks coffee. We then go about some other fun status quo activity. What is needed is complete focus on food production locally and doing this at the same time we try to manage a collapsing global status quo.

    Frankly I don’t see how it can be done but I will say this I think we can do something by eliminating poor attitudes and lifestyles. These wasted resources and actions dominate our culture. We can embrace food production locally and individually with the greatest of urgency. Since we will likely stumble into a die off for systematic reasons do something individually. Move somewhere where you can do it. Society appears to be hopeless but you don’t have to be.

  18. Kenz300 on Tue, 30th Aug 2016 9:23 am 

    Too many people demand too many resources……yet the worlds population grows by 80 million every year…..

    How many charities are dealing with the same problems they were dealing with 10 or 20 years ago with no end in sight.

    Every problem is made worse by the worlds growing population.

    If you can not provide for yourself you can not provide for a child.

    Birth Control Permanent Methods: Learn About Effectiveness

    Endless growth, especially endless population growth is unsustainable………….Climate Change will impact all of us and cause enormous problem for countries and people around the world……… this is the great challenge of our times……. will future generations be doomed to suffer the consequences of our actions….

    Should We Be Having Kids In The Age Of Climate Change?

    Travel to the Real Philippines: Homeless Family w/ 3 Young Kids. Poverty among Filipinos is High

    Having a child that you can not provide for is cruel……..and leads to more poverty, suffering and despair…………

    Child Beggars Of India- A Documentary

    The Effects Of Growth: Sprawl & Development – YouTube

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