Wasting Energy, Water, And Land By Throwing Away Food
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has released a report showing that 30% to 50% of the total food production in the world (or about 1.2 – 2 billion tonnes) is wasted through poor practices in harvesting, storage, and transportation as well as poor market and consumer practices. With the United Nations’ projection of a 9.5 billion global population growth peak by 2075, increases in food production worldwide are expected to put even more pressure on already taxed natural resources.
The report Global Food – Waste Not, Want Not highlights energy, land, and water as finite resources being strained by global levels of food wastage.
Energy The modern food production cycle would not run smoothly without sufficient energy resources, most of it coming from fossil fuels. From manufacture of essential agrochemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers, to powering machinery to transportation of produce, energy plays the key role of an important yet finite resource. According to the report, an average of 7 to 10 calories of energy input are needed to produce one calorie of food. Plant crops need an input starting at 3 calories while beef production requires up to 35 calories. This translates to as much as energy wasted with every pound of food unnecessarily thrown away.
Fertilizer manufacturing and production are a big part of food production energy input, consuming about 3%-5% of the world’s natural gas supply every year. The industry is projected to increase as much as 25% in the next years, making sustainable energy sourcing a pressing issue.
Land In a strategic computer game, it looks like a case of simple math: if there are more units to feed, simply add more farms to increase food production and support the added units. However, real life is more complicated. The report says that global food production has already tapped half of the usable land surface available (4.9 Gha out of 10 Gha), and to further increase agricultural land means to impact what remains of the planet’s ecosystems. Instead, more effective land usage may be the better option to both increase food production and save ecosystems and their benefits. This includes weighing options of land use with efficiency in mind (using a hectare of land to produce rice or potatoes for about 20 people every year of using it to produce lamb or beef for only two people every year) as well as sustainability issues (biomass crops or food crops).
Water Applying sustainable use of water resource in global food production entails choosing more efficient irrigation methods over traditional, wasteful ones. Investing in drip irrigation methods will save a lot of water that is wasted in flood and overhead spray methods which usually lose significant amounts to evaporation. Managing water sources used in agricultural lands such as aquifers will also ensure its sustainable use.
The report cites an additional case for sustainable use in meat production, where beef requires about 50 times more water than vegetable produce. Sustainable use of water supply can be applied through more efficient washing techniques and recycling of water among others in processing meat.
While improving the efficiency of how we use resources is a great step away from unnecessary wastage, it is important to remember that reducing food wastage is no small contribution either. Consumers might not have a lot of say in how their food is produced and managed in the agricultural and commerce level – whether land is used sustainably or used water recycled. But, being consumers of the end product, they can choose to do justice to the resources spent in producing their food by not wasting it through avoiding excessive purchases or being excessively picky over produce appearances.
Consumers can also choose to support sustainably-produced food and make adjustments to their diet and eating habits. Each time good food is wasted, the resources that helped produce it get thrown out into trash bins as well. Global food wastage is a tragedy we can all do something about today, and by doing so contribute to meeting the challenge of sustainably supplying the food demands of tomorrow.
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