“Waste not want not.”
During the 18th century, Malthus wrote ‘the rate of population growth is faster than the speed that food supplies can grow (BBC, 2017). In time, there would not be enough resources for everyone. NFU, 2017 states that global population is forecast to be over 9 billion by 2050, leading to an increasing demand for food and increasing further pressure on resources. A sustainable system is safe, healthy and with affordable food for all, without using natural resources at a rate that exceeds the capacity of the Earth to replenish them. It is known that the UK’s current food system is not sustainable and that we are facing threats to the security of our food supply.
Agriculture in the 21st century has pressures to produce more food to feed a growing population with a smaller rural labour force, but food loss and waste is still a severe issue and presents a global challenge. An estimated32 percent of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted from farm to fork which has huge economic, social, and environmental impacts.
• consumes approximately quarter of all water used in Horticulture and Agriculture industry,
• requires cropland area the size of China,
• is responsible for an estimated 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the USA (Goodwin, 2017).
Marcus Gover, CEO of WRAP, said that every person in the UK is responsible for reducing food waste. “Every person in the UK can help reduce food waste”. However, food waste activists, The Real Junk Food Project, said: “the food industry, not the consumer, must take responsibility” (Wri.org, 2017). Either way, sustainable development aims to meet the demands of the present and not to deprive our future generations of the natural world of resources (ncerthelp4u, 2017).
It is estimated that there is approximately 15 times more food wasted on farms than at retail level. (The Northern Echo, 2017). The answer is that farms are often bearing the brunt of the risks and costs of food waste. Farmers are caught between many factors like variable weather, consumer demand, and perhaps most importantly, supermarket policies, which include:
• Penalising farmers when they run short of produce,
• Rejecting produce that’s the wrong size, shape or appearance
• Sometimes changing orders at the last minute eg. when they find a better deal with a different supplier
Looking forward to 2050, if yield increases are not enough to meet demand, the pressure will build to expand production areas. Even if production area can be developed to meet demand, environmental damage and greenhouse gas emissions from the increase will be substantial (Hofstrand, 2014).
It is not always clear which technologies are profitable for farming to develop, and which farm practices will contribute to be sustainable farming systems in the long-term. Agricultural research requires vast amounts of productivity and investment. There is also a long lag time from initiating research to the actual application of new technologies so, investments need to be made soon for the impact on productivity to emerge by 2050.
In the past, research was often directed at solving technical problems; now it is aimed at defining research to produce the best technology which can address demands of society. Those priorities include biological pest control, biotechnology, information technology, precision farming, integrated and organic farming systems.
Other issues, however, relate to education and the training of such systems. Furthermore, some sustainability issues are not necessarily best addressed through technological options, but just by changing the level and type of agricultural production and its location.
If we assume that agricultural production needs to increase 70 percent by 2050 to be able to provide for 9 billion people, cutting food waste by half over the next forty years means we will only need to increase agricultural production by 45 percent instead of 70 percent (Hofstrand, 2014).
The UK has until 2025 to meet the next Court Agreement target of reducing food and drink waste by an ambitious 20 percent which can only be achieved if supermarkets, manufacturers and local authorities combine their efforts and put food sustainability before profit.