Have your say about food waste from the farm

Food waste has become the poster child for inefficiency in agri-food. But how much are farmers contributing to the problem…or to the solution?

That’s what a study led by Second Harvest and Value Chain Management International (VCMI) is trying to find out, in what they say is the world’s first comprehensive look at food loss and waste from primary producers to consumers.

They’re hoping 250 farmers from across Canada, and all commodities, will take part in the project survey, which closes June 22.

The project is funded by the Walmart Foundation. It will encompass Canada’s farming, food and beverage industry, including fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, grains and oilseeds, sugars and syrups, beverages and seafood.

It’s designed to establish a framework and metrics that businesses operating in the farming, processing, retail and foodservice sectors can use to understand where losses are likely to occur.

Further, it will identify ways that farmers and downstream businesses can improve performance and profitability, by reducing losses and waste.

The research team will collect data for an accurate estimate of food loss waste occurring at discrete points along the value chain, then evaluate the impact of its root causes.

They will also develop solutions to reduce the percentage of Canadian food sent to landfill, by having improved redistribution, reuse and recycling practices.

Consumers have taken the brunt of the blame for food waste. About 47 per cent of food waste (by value) is said to come from the kitchen. Previous research by VCMI pegged contributions from farming at around 10 per cent of the total, $3.1 billion.

Now, they want to nail it down tighter.

“The associated costs of food loss and waste include energy, labour, packaging and water, costs which never appear in isolation,” says VCMI’s Martin Gooch. “The extent to which businesses – including farms – can benefit financially from reducing food loss and waste can be significant.”

To gather integral data for this project, VCMI has developed an online survey, for farmers and other members along the value chain to complete. (Find the survey here.)

Gooch says the project could lead to farmers gaining greater recognition for the crucial role that they play in ensuring the safe environmentally sustainable production of food.

Farmers could also benefit from the research enabling them to capture greater value from their crops and livestock from the creation of new markets, reducing input costs, or reducing losses by improving quality or customer relationships.

Further, he says, the project could also lead to a greater proportion of inedible food being incorporated into animal feed or transformed into fertilizer rather than going to landfill.

Industry engagement is occurring in two forms. The first series of industry engagement activities will be held during June and July. They’ll be concise sessions, focused on testing the accuracy of data gathered to that point, along with the validity of assumptions drawn from the initial analysis.

The second series of industry engagement activities be three stand-alone focus groups delivered in October, in eastern, central and western Canada, focussed on pragmatic food loss and waste solutions.

The project will conclude in December, with a “roadmap” that identifies the overall framework and proposed solutions.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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