Measure to Manage Food Loss in Supply Chains

The shocking statistic that 33 percent of food is lost or wasted—one out of every three calories—begs the question, what can food and beverage companies do about food loss and waste in their supply chains?

There is a long list of urgent and compelling issues that food and beverage companies are already grappling with in their supply chains—climate change, water, livelihoods, gender equity, the list goes on. Where does food loss and waste fit in the priority list?

With funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, Sustainable Food Lab is working with partners to develop and test a set of metrics to be used in smallholder supply chains. These metrics help identify where food loss is an urgent issue and help companies evaluate and reduce food loss.

Working initially in three supply chains: with Technoserve on mangos in Kenya, the Alliance for a Green Revolution Africa on maize in Tanzania and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture on sorghum in Uganda, the metrics are designed to:

  • Make food loss more visible;
  • Increase understanding of where food loss is avoidable; and,
  • Learn more about what types of investments reduce the amount of food lost in a supply chain.

Providing a generic, adaptable measurement framework based on existing work on the ground will be useful to companies looking to prioritize and operationalize loss reduction in smallholder supply chains.

This effort is by no means the first of its kind. The amount of food loss occurring has spawned a wide variety of forums from the Food Waste Reduction Alliance to the FAO’s Save Food Initiative to the IFPRI platform commissioned by the G20 to the International Food Waste Coalition. Where the Food Lab’s work differs is that it focuses on quantification of losses and the impacts of loss-reducing efforts in smallholder supply chains.

This work connects to other private sector partners through Sustainable Food Lab’s Performance Measurement Community of Practice. Over the past 2 years, this community has developed a commonly accepted set of indicators and metrics for better understanding how smallholder supply chains can deliver more benefits to farmers. In this group, practitioners from the private sector, third-party standards, development agencies, NGOs, and lending organizations come together as a learning community for those responsible for reporting on supply chain development outcomes. Including a waste measurement framework alongside the current focus will allow interested companies to include food loss in their smallholder supply chain assessment to drive learning and ultimately, more sustainable supply chains.

Loss and waste is usually categorized two ways, by losses occurring at the farm level and in pre-processing and waste at retail and foodservice stage or by consumers.

On one end of the chain is the farmer, and on the other, the consumer. Reaching these points to influence food loss and waste is harder than tackling waste in one’s operations but essential to the larger picture of food waste. In fact, this is where most loss and waste occurs. Source: WRAP UK / Tesco UK food waste report. 

The environmental impact is profound. According to WWF’s, Jason Clay, 23 percent of the world’s usable water gets wasted on this food and 10 percent of the world’s green house gas is created from wasted food.

Before a company can set goals and allocate resources to reducing food losses in their supply chain however, they need to be able to answer:

  • Where are losses occurring in our supply chains, and why?
  • What is the scope of the loss that is occurring?
  • How will reducing food loss increase the sustainability of our supply chain?
  • What types of loss reducing interventions work best for our ingredients and sourcing origins?
  • Who would we need to partner with to address loss in our supply chains?

These are the questions being addressed in this project. For more information, or to get involved, contact Emily Shipman.

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