Determining how much additional agricultural production is needed to meet future demand for food depends, in part, on how much of that production is lost due to waste or spoilage between the farm and table. In less-developed countries, 15 to 50 percent of harvests are estimated to be lost both in the field and post-harvest owing to pests, diseases, and lack of adequate storage and other infrastructure, especially for transporting goods to market. Reducing post-harvest losses in developing countries requires both public- and private-sector investment in agricultural research, development, and extension, including in appropriate storage technologies and in improved infrastructure to better connect smallholder farmers to local, regional, and international markets. Training and education about effective drying and storage practices are particularly critical.
In the United States and other developed countries, food waste is also a significant problem. A recent study estimates that in the United States, more than 600 pounds of food are wasted per person per year. The majority of waste is at the consumer level, where about one-half of the food purchased is wasted. High food waste at the consumer level is attributed to relatively cheap food prices in developed countries and minimal awareness about the scale of food waste. Although improvements have been made, better management throughout the supply chain and at the consumer level is needed to reduce loss. Reducing both post-harvest losses and food waste requires multiple strategies, including increasing consumer awareness, changing consumption behavior, and refining incentives among supply chain participants in the private sector.
The strategies for reducing waste and loss will necessarily be different because the underlying causes are different, but curbing waste and loss in both developed and developing countries will nevertheless be critical to reducing hunger in developing countries and meeting future demand.