Guest Column

Food waste vs. hunger

Millions of people are undernourished although tonnes of food are allowed to perish or are thrown away. That is an issue that concerns all of us.

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Jessica von Blazekovic

Eat up! Think of the starving children in Africa!’ This is something we probably all heard as children. Today, thankfully, many parents have come to realise that it is wrong to force children to eat. The fact that little Noah in Berlin has eaten all of his mashed potato will have no bearing whatsoever on whether or not a child in Ethiopia goes to bed with a full tummy. Anyway, it is adults who should take to heart the philosophy from child-rearing practices of the past. It is estimated that 1.3 billion tonnes of food end up in the bin every year worldwide – that is one third of total food production. The German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) reckons that in Germany alone, 12 million tonnes of food are thrown out every year – more than half by private households.

‘The fact that little Noah in Berlin has eaten all of his mashed potato will have no bearing whatsoever on whether or not a child in Ethiopia goes to bed with a full tummy.’

In view of the fact that about 700 million people in the world go hungry (a number that has been rising again since 2014), that is more than just an ethical problem. Although the causal link between the wasteful lifestyle in industrialised nations and hunger in developing countries has not yet been proven, organisations like Welthungerhilfe do believe that our behaviour influences the ability of people in other parts of the world to access food reliably.

According to the figures from the German Federal Statistical Office, some two thirds of the farmland needed to produce food for German consumers now lies outside Germany. So, the greater the demand is in Germany for food, the more farmland in other countries will be used to grow export crops, meaning that it is not available to feed the local population. When farmland becomes scarcer, food prices also rise, making it even more difficult for people in developing countries to access food. ‘Land grabbing’ is a term we often hear in this context, when international investors buy farmland to grow cash crops. These are lucrative crops such as soybeans or maize that are grown purely for export and not to feed the farmers themselves.

Climate change is making global hunger worse. From Asia to Africa, it is destroying the livelihoods of millions of people as soils become eroded and droughts and other extreme weather events make it more difficult to grow food. And here too, food waste plays a part. It is estimated that the carbon footprint of food waste totals 3.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide every year, meaning that its contribution to global warming is almost comparable to that of global road traffic.

No, people in Germany cannot end hunger in the world just by throwing away less food. The issue is a lot more complex; fragile states, crises and conflicts, difficulties in storing and distributing food – all of these elements play a part. But much points to the fact that the way we deal with food is a large part of the problem. That is why all of us, and not just Noah in Berlin, should become part of the solution, and eat in moderation.

published in akzente 1/21

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