December 26, 2022 at 6:00 pm | Updated December 29, 2022 at 4:59 pm | 7 min read
- We need to increase our food production to feed a growing population without using more land and water resources.
- One way of improving food security is to reduce food loss in developed and developing countries by value addition.
- Food value-addition initiatives exist at small scales around the globe, some of which have export potential.
- Maintaining food quality and safety remains critical for food value addition to succeed.
We need to produce more food to meet the needs of a growing world population. However, resources like land and water are not limitless. Moreover, using more land and water will have severe environmental consequences. Therefore, avoiding food loss and waste can play a vital role in achieving food security. Currently, decentralized and small-scale value-addition projects show us a way forward.
We Need More Food
To feed the estimated population by 2050, we will need 60-110 percent more land.
Of the global total of 13.4 billion hectares, only 3 billion are suitable for food production due to soil and other natural conditions. Half of the arable area is already cultivated after clearing forests. This trend is expected to continue, with seven percent more deforestation by 2030, most of which will occur in tropical countries with biodiversity-rich forests, incurring losses for posterity.
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Currently, one-third of agricultural land is used as croplands, and two-thirds are for grazing livestock. Of the croplands, ten percent is under perennial crops like fruits, oil, cacao, tea, etc.
Water could become scarce as its consumption rate increases twice as much as the population growth. Most of it, around 70 percent, is already used for irrigation.
Without new land, we can try to grow more through intensive farming. However, the farmland availability has decreased from 0.45 hectares/capita in 1961 to 0.21 hectares/capita in 2016. So there isn’t much scope for an increase there.
Preventing Food Loss
Figure 1: The percentage of food loss and waste occurring at each supply chain point. The maximum loss occurs at the post-harvest stage, followed by households, according to data collected by the FAO. (Image credits: https://www.fao.org/platform-food-loss-waste/flw-data/en/
One means of increasing food availability without adding pressure on the environment is to prevent food loss and waste. Value addition is one possibility.
WWF and Tesco, estimate that 40 percent of food grown, amounting to 1.3 billion tonnes, is wasted yearly. We would need an area larger than the Indian sub-continent to grow that much food. Half of the losses occur on farms. Surprisingly, the west and industrialized Asia that use mechanized farming account for more farm food loss, around 58 percent.
About 14 percent of the total food production is lost between farm and retailing. Food is lost at many critical points in the supply chain, starting from the farm, during preharvest, harvest, and post-harvest stages. Once the food reaches suppliers, grading, transport, processing, packing, distribution, markets-whole sale, and retail are points where food is lost, see Figure 1.
Perishable products like fresh vegetables, fruits, and roots suffer the most loss of around 40-50 percent, followed by a 30 percent loss in cereals and 20 percent in oilseeds. This is because a portion of fresh produce is needed as table food, but the rest can be processed.
The portion lost on the farm could be because of surplus, order cancellations, poor infrastructure, or because fresh produce needs to meet size and color standards set by retailers. Injury, diseases, and poor harvesting techniques can also produce waste, see Figure 2.
Currently, some waste is composted and used as animal feed. However, some food is just incinerated or landfilled.
Value addition by processing can use “ugly,” canceled, or surplus food. This is besides the regular, large-scale processing for which farmers produce their crops.
Figure 2: “Types of food loss and waste occurring at the farm stage of food production, expanding the usual scope of food waste estimates to also cover harvest and slaughter operations,” WWF. (Image credits: https://www.wwf.eu/?4049841/fifteen-per-cent-of-food-is-lost-before-leaving-the-farm-WWF-report)
Value addition can occur through low-cost processing at commercial levels or preservation techniques at home and farm. The demand for processed food is increasing globally. So value addition can fulfill more than one need.
Examples from Developed Countries
Value addition and manufacturing line optimization are two possible ways of reducing post-harvest food waste in the US. An estimated 102,000 tons of food loss can be prevented by value addition in the US alone, according to an NGO, ReFED. Several small companies are already trying innovative ideas to provide consumers with nutrition through value addition. Some examples are listed below.
- A juice producer collects ugly and leftover vegetables and fruits from local farms, distributors, and fresh-cut producers to make fresh juice.
- A company operating in California and Washington uses ugly and surplus produce from farmers to prepare and sell 8 million meals a day.
- Organic ugly bananas from Latin America are converted to partially dehydrated snacks like chips with a longer shelf-life than fresh fruits.
- Mushroom stalks previously wasted are being processed to dry powders to make Vitamin D supplements.
- Spent grains from breweries, from which only sugar is used, still have intact fiber and other nutraceuticals like antioxidants. A company uses patented technology to make flour from these grains, which is healthier than regular flour. Earlier, these grains were composted or landfilled.
- Another disruptor uses okara, the pulpy byproduct from soymilk, to make a new nutritious flour.
Examples from Developing Countries
Low technology interventions can make a huge difference in developing countries, where value addition and food processing are less prevalent. Introducing processing in developing countries, where infrastructure doesn’t allow quick transport or cool storage, can be critical. It would save food and provide additional income and nutrition, especially for small-farm holders.
- Tomato is a global favorite but also perishable. Farmers in Malawi are sometimes forced to sell products at low prices to avoid losing their crops. However, it is possible to produce many value-added products like paste, ketchup, jam, juice, sauces, or dried tomatoes. This kind of commercial processing requires less capital and tools and could be organized by cooperatives and NGOs for farmers or undertaken by small-scale industries.
- In Egypt, women were trained in household-level processes in product development, food preservation, and food safety and quality. The techniques tried were drying apricots to make leather, canning orange and carrot jams, etc. These ideas were once again simple but innovative enough to be tried on a small scale.
- South Africans make green banana flour from farm surplus for local and international markets. About 25-50 percent of unripe banana harvests are lost yearly due to poor post-harvest handling. The flour can be exported as a gluten-free alternative to improve the local economy.
Fruit Quality and Safety
However, food quality and safety concerns must be addressed during value addition at different stages to make products wholesome and attractive to consumers.
Choosing quality ingredients: Ugly fruits and vegetables do not have a standard appearance, but the flavor, nutrition benefits, and color are still good. However, checking with precise objective tools like quality meters can make choosing produce for further processing more straightforward and transparent. Moreover, this quality check will be necessary to ensure food safety in case of leftovers from other processing units.
Processing: Several large or medium-sized processing units will use sensors and devices to test ingredients and their end product for quality to standardize them. Quality meters are also necessary to monitor the process itself.
Adulteration: Because unripe green banana flour is lucrative, adultering the value-added product became common. A scientist showed how to use commercial quality tools like the F-750 Produce Quality Meter to detect common adulterants, wheat and maize, in the green banana flour. National and international agencies can use these tools to control the new value-added green banana flour quality to exploit the global market worth over 500 million.
Storage: The value-added products may have to be stored, for example, the dehydrated banana chips or flour. The product quality will have to be monitored and checked during this time. If the products are stored in controlled atmosphere storage rooms, gas analysis can become necessary to control oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
The room atmosphere in storage and transport can be tested by gas analyzers like F-901 AccuStore & AccuRipe, fixed devices, or portable tools like F-920 Check It! Gas Analyzer, F-940 Store It! Gas Analyzer, and F-950 Three Gas Analyzer. These devices can analyze oxygen and also carbon dioxide, and ethylene levels.
One of Many Options
Besides value addition, there are many ways to improve food security by reducing food loss and waste. These include improvements in packaging, cold chain storage, transport, farm, post-harvest quality control, shelf-life extension, etc. The solutions suggested will have to be relevant for the different regions in the world, considering the prevailing socio-economical conditions and available infrastructure.
Dickey, N. M., Devin R. J., Lynn O. V., and Oscar A. P, “Effects of long-term storage on wheat flour packaged in a low oxygen atmosphere” (2004). Faculty Publications, 66. https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/facpub/66
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2020. May, 7). Land use in agriculture by the numbers. Retrieved June 14, 2022, from https://www.fao.org/sustainability/news/detail/en/c/1274219/
Giz. (2022, June 13). Water in agriculture. Retrieved June 14, 2022, from https://www.giz.de/expertise/html/60133.html
McHugh, T. (2018, August 1). Solving the Food Waste Disgrace. Retrieved from https://www.ift.org/news-and-publications/food-technology-magazine/issues/2018/august/columns/processing-food-waste
Molotoks, A., Stehfest, E., Doelman, J., Albanito, F., Fitton, N., Dawson, T. P., & Smith, P. (2018). Global projections of future cropland expansion to 2050 and direct impacts on biodiversity and carbon storage. Global Change Biology, 24(12), 5895–5908. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14459
Nevárez-Moorillón, G. V., Zakaria, Z. A., Prado-Barragán, L. A., & Aguilar, C. N. (2022). Editorial: New trends in food processing: Reducing food loss, waste, and the Environmental Impact. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fsufs.2022.856361
NRI. (n.d.). Food Loss, Waste Reduction and Value Addition. Retrieved from https://www.nri.org/development-programmes/food-loss-waste-reduction-and-value-addition/overview
UN-Water. (n.d.). Scarcity: UN-Water. UN. Retrieved June 14, 2022, from https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/scarcity/
United Nations. (n.d.). Food loss and waste reduction. United Nations. Retrieved June 14, 2022, from https://www.un.org/en/observances/end-food-waste-day
WWF. (2021, July 21). Over 15% of food is lost before leaving the farm – WWF report. Retrieved from https://www.wwf.eu/?4049841/fifteen-per-cent-of-food-is-lost-before-leaving-the-farm-WWF-report
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