Stop food wastage in order to feed the hungry

May 03, 2018
File photo of the hard times.
File photo of the hard times.

Saudi Gazette report

MORE than 100 years have passed after the Arabian Peninsula was hit by the biggest poverty, which was so severe that it was about to exterminate people and animals of the region.

The poverty hit the region hard as a result of drought and shortage of foodstuffs and agricultural products. In those days children used to beg for a piece of date, a slice of bread and a cup of water. Elderly people in the Kingdom still talk about the year of poverty in light of stories narrated by their forefathers.

“Foodstuffs in those days were precious like gold and it was very difficult to get food and drink,” said Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Sulaiman, an elderly man, while speaking to Al-Riyadh newspaper. Most people were living on dates.

“We have heard the story that a worker who came to dig a well for a Saudi family was given a piece of dry fat to remove dryness of his hands but the man ate that stick after removing its dirt,” said Al-Sulaiman.

The house owner could not believe that scene and asked the man what was the reason for eating that dry fat stick. He replied: “My stomach needed it now more than my hands.”

Many people were seen dead on the roads and pathways and parents used to leave their children due to extreme poverty as they could not watch them dying in front of their eyes, he explained.

Those frightening days and years have passed.

Saudi Arabia now enjoys progress and prosperity thanks to the discovery of oil and the massive economic boom that followed. King Abdul Aziz unified the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after bringing warring tribes to their senses and established a modern state.

Unfortunately Saudi Arabia now tops the list of countries that wastes food. According to statistics issued by the Ministry of Agriculture about one third of food in the Kingdom is wasted. Other reports reveal that about 90 percent of food supplied during marriage ceremonies end up in garbage boxes as people use such events to show off their status.

We should know that this extravagance takes place when the Kingdom imports 90 percent of its food requirements from other countries. “We waste 30 percent of this imported foodstuffs. This is a dangerous equation and measures should be taken to stop this wastage,” said a social worker who requested anonymity.

The wastage of food in the Kingdom comes when people of many countries in Africa and Middle East suffer from acute food shortage and economic depression as a result of civil wars and shortage of resources.

“The food wastage not only affects the economy but also the environment,” said an environmentalist. “The throwing of excess food in the garbage box is the main reason for producing methane gas, which is 21 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide,” he added.

Food waste isn't just a devastating misuse of natural resources, it's also a huge part of the world's carbon footprint, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Every year, the world throws out about 1.3 billion tons of food — a startling one-third of the food produced. And that creates a greenhouse gas footprint bigger than all countries, except for China and the US.

Because of the immense amounts of energy, water and chemicals used for agriculture and food production, the food supply chain produces about 3.3 billion tons of carbon a year. That means 30 percent of the world's farmland — about 3.5 billion acres — is wasted.

And not counting seafood, wasting all that food costs about $750 billion a year, about the GDP of Switzerland, says FAO. "All of us — farmers and fishers; food processors and supermarkets; local and national governments; individual consumers — must make changes at every link of the human food chain to prevent food wastage,” said Jose Graziano da Silva, director general of FAO.

"We simply cannot allow one-third of all the food we produce to go to waste or be lost because of inappropriate practices, when 870 million people go hungry every day,” the official added.

"Food wastage reduction would not only avoid pressure on scarce natural resources but also decrease the need to raise food production by 60 percent in order to meet the 2050 population demand," the FAO said.

Islam has strongly opposed and discouraged food wastage and called those who waste food and other resources as “brothers of Satan.” Despite these warnings, a Saudi man wastes 427 kg of food every year, especially during special occasions such as weddings and Eid festivities.

“The overall daily quantity of food waste is sufficient to feed the whole population of Riyadh,” said Khairat Charity Society chairperson Noora bint Abdulaziz Al-Ajami, blaming the massive food waste on social culture.

The association, which operates under the supervision of Labor and Social Development Ministry, plans to save more than two million meals and benefit 300,000 needy people. The government has launched a national program to crack down on food waste after shocking figures estimated the cost of wastage at $13.3 billion a year, amounting to a third of the country’s food production.

The initiative aims to effectively exploit natural resources and establish policies to reduce waste among popular grains and foods, including wheat, rice, dates, vegetables, fruit, red and white meat. The Saudi Grains Organization said it will provide training to private sector stakeholders on best practices to reduce food waste and prepare legislative framework to implement rules regarding wastage.

The initiative also aims to strengthen collaboration among supply chain stakeholders to improve product re-use, as well as enhancing recycling capabilities.

Food waste is not just an ethical issue, with many people thinking it is immoral to throw food away. It also affects the environment. Excess food is an untapped energy source that mostly ends up rotting in the landfills and releasing harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

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