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Should We Shift Focus from Production to Reducing Food Waste and Loss?

Mamadou Biteye - Former Managing Director, Africa Regional Office, The Rockefeller Foundation

This post is part of a series on Advancing the Global Goals.  

Food Vendor

An astounding one third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted between the farm and the fork.

Just think about that for a moment: While nearly 800 million people—one in nine globally—are undernourished, more than a billion tons of food never make it to the table. These inefficiencies in our global food system have serious impacts for nutrition, health and the environment.

Food loss and waste is an urgent global crisis affecting all of us—people, planet, and profits—from the health and livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people to the bottom lines of the private sector. Furthermore, it is a moral issue. The reality is worse especially in the developing countries where 98 percent of the world’s hungry people live.

Farmers everywhere experience some degree of loss, but the problem is most acute across Sub-Saharan Africa. Paradoxically, the continent has the capacity to not only feed itself, even with a growing population, but to become a net exporter of food—rather than an importer as it is now.


Overcoming this challenge requires each one of us to play our role—as producers, consumers, and environmentalist to name a few—in addressing it. And we must do it if we have any hope of feeding the additional two billion people—half of which will be in the African continent—expected on the planet by 2050. Sub-Saharan Africa needs both intensification of its agricultural system and better post-harvest management. This is not an either or question.

And it is with this backdrop that The Rockefeller Foundation’s YieldWise initiative is working with private, public and nonprofit actors involved in the food supply system to cut their food loss and waste by half. At its heart, our approach focuses on behavior change, from how smallholder farmers grow and store their crops to how companies account for food loss and waste across their supply chains. An efficient, productive food system with minimal loss is our goal—and one that is well within reach.


  • While nearly 800 million people are undernourished, over a billion tons of food never make it to market. [Share This] 
  • Minimizing food loss will produce enough excess yields to benefit world’s 500 million small farms. [Share This] 
  • SDG 2 goal focuses on not only at ending hunger but also at reducing food loss. [Share This] 

Food loss and waste is an all-inclusive problem, eliminating it requires an all-inclusive solution that looks across the global food system to identify where the biggest losses occur and provide incentives for solving the problems at the root.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) provide us with a framework on how to achieve economic growth that is at the same time socially inclusive and environmentally sound. This framework needs to be applied to our food systems to increase both sustainability and resilience.

Achieving the SDG 2 goal of ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture can only be possible, if we shift the discussions from only producing more food to also managing the food that we already have.

Agricultural systems need to be intensified based on the best-available knowledge and best-practices as the yield gap is still significant. Such intensification would need to take into consideration both social and environmental aspects to be both sustainable and resilient.


In the past, funders and policymakers often focused on producing more—be it more energy to support development or more buildings to house growing populations. As the impacts of climate change increase, many of us are instead seeking ways to do more with what we already have.

I am glad the SDG’s are looking not only at ending hunger but also at reducing Food Loss (SDG12.3), a move I believe is sustainable since the two complement each other.

If the global community is serious about achieving a hunger-free world, we need to prioritize finding solutions to food loss along the entire agricultural value chain. We will need to put more concerted effort to reduce food losses.

Post-harvest management needs to be included in the development agenda and additional focus needs to be payed to it.

The private sector (both global and local) has an important role to play and have a responsibility. Their business model needs to be more inclusive to allow for smallholder farmer sourcing. It also needs to be more transparent to allow for PHL reporting.

As the world converges next week at the United Nations Governing Council, my hope is that leaders will emphasize more on the importance of food waste and Loss to promote a food secure world.

When food losses are minimized, the world’s 500 million small farms will produce enough excess yields to become sustainable businesses. And when that happens, we won’t just eliminate extreme hunger by 2030—we will be on our way to eliminating extreme poverty as well.

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