Dr. Bruno Defilippi
More knowledge = Less waste
When it comes to food waste; we usually think of ourselves and how much food we throw away either during cooking or because we have failed to store it properly. Despite the fact that consumers have a significant influence on the amount of food waste, we observe higher levels of wasted food in developed countries such as the United States, where the losses amount to 150,000 metric tons of food per day, according to a study by the University of Vermont.
In Latin America’s countries, most of the losses occur in the stages prior to food getting to the consumers, which is also the case in other developing countries areas. If we consider, for example fresh horticultural products such as fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers, about 50% is lost before reaching the consumers, according to studies carried out by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The causes are multivariate: they are mostly biological, including waste caused by decay, and physical due to poor handling of the produce resulting in dehydration and damages. Both biological and physical causes are closely related to logistics issues, either the effect of lack of infrastructure to maintain the ideal conditions for each fruit and vegetable product or by the distances required to reach the distribution or final consumption centers.
Dr. Bruno Defilippi
Post-harvest Specialist, Institute of Agricultural Research of Chile (INIA)
In fact, I noticed a cross-sectional cause across countries and products, which is related to the lack of knowledge necessary to maintain the product in adequate conditions in order to avoid losses – and I believe that the ability to transfer available knowledge to the entire chain is one of our greatest challenges. On the one hand, we need to provide trainings and continuous support to the farmers, allowing them to reduce losses during the cultivation stage. On the other hand, we must improve the marketing process to have the appropriate flow for each species, time and technological management, needed for the produce to reach the destination market, whether local or for export, in good conditions.
From the technical standpoint, the massification of basic post-harvest technologies available for many decades is crucial. For example, it is essential to use adequate temperatures, according to the requirements of each species and market, in order to decrease the metabolism of fresh products.
There are newer initiatives to develop technologies that will allow loss reduction. Two of technologies worth mentioning are: varieties that have a longer post-harvest life and the use of crop protection systems that can help mitigate climate event effects. It is essential that this be a continuous work, as the causes of losses are dynamic and should address the local conditions in which they occur. In other words, a solution to reduce losses in table grape production in Italy, for example, would be different from those necessary to reduce such losses in Chile.
There are other important innovations, such as the development of genotypes or varieties with a greater potential for post-harvest life, these might have greater resistance to pests and diseases, lower metabolism, or a better texture that helps withstand the marketing stage. New and more effective products for the control of pests and diseases, harmless to consumers and the environment, are also in the market focus.
Packaging is also seeing new developments beyond maintaining the sales unit; including “active” materials that have a differential permeability to gases in order to decrease the metabolism of fresh products, or the incorporate compounds that reduce the presence of diseases or ethylene* during storage or transportation.
Advances like those mentioned are taking place in Chile through several investments which encourage the development of genetic improvement programs in fruits and vegetables to ensure a longer post-harvest life. The Institute of Agricultural Research of Chile (INIA) in partnership with other institutions in the sector, through Regional Research Centers distributed across the country aimed at understanding local issues, not only provides technological solutions but helps disseminate knowledge.
While farmers, together with the public and private sectors are looking at solutions to minimize losses on farm and in the distribution channels, we must not neglect the consumers’ role. We need to provide information to help them avoid food losses particularly around how to keep fresh fruits and vegetable for longer periods. Fortunately, the new generations of consumers are firmly and increasingly demanding a responsible food production system, which has resulted in the development of initiatives aimed at reducing food losses and bringing more innovation for a sustainable production.