Wageningen University & Research: Wageningen researchers take a journey into the world’s food systems in search of losses, waste and ways to solve them

Food losses and waste (FLW) are a major problem: An estimated one third of all food that is produced worldwide is lost or wasted before it can be consumed. Mitigating these losses and waste is an important pathway towards more sustainable production and consumption, better accessibility of healthy diets, and more economic possibilities for actors in the food chain. General recommendations abound on how to achieve this, but implementation of these ideas in real-world food systems is rarely straightforward. In a recently published book, WUR experts from numerous domains explore how high-level FLW recommendations can be translated into concrete actions, solutions, and pathways.

Launch at the WIFI event
On the 13th of June at the Wageningen Integration For Impact (WIFI) event Wageningen researchers launched the book ‘A journey into the world’s food systems in search of losses, waste and ways to solve them’. The authors highlight new scientific insights and practice-oriented research outlining the way forward from what should happen to how this can be done to achieve more sustainable food systems.

Sanne Stroosnijder – Programme Manager Food Loss and Waste Prevention at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research – is one of the initiators and editors of the book. She handed the first digital copy over to Casper Holl, Head of Agro Economic Policy and Food Security at the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.

According to Stroosnijder, reducing food loss and waste is not an end in itself, but a means to an end, where interventions aiming at reducing FLW should contribute to enhancing food and nutrition security and more sustainable food system outcomes. “All authors in this book challenged themselves to translate high-level recommendations on FLW in an effort to really move from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’ ”.

Call to action
The concluding section of the volume can be read as a call to action. SDG Target 12.3 calls for halving per capita global food waste at retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses, by 2030. With this deadline the clock is ticking and the urgency to take action and realise meaningful and sustained impact grows by the day. The book highlights the following concluding remarks:

There is a great potential role for applied research in improving food supply systems. Aside from further optimising food supply chains in developed economies, we should also increase efforts to reduce FLW in LMIC countries where much is still to be gained in terms of mitigating losses and waste.
Making science-based recommendations actionable. This book gives examples of the type of thinking needed to connect sweeping general recommendations to the food system context in which action has to be taken. There is no shortage of ideas of what may work, and translating these into impact in the food system requires bottom-up initiatives to realise small wins as well as more systemic efforts to develop strategies for scaling and accelerating successes.
For all actors this involves stepping out of their comfort zone in some ways. As discussed in this book for example, policy makers, civil servants, and funding bodies need to work with and facilitate actors in the informal sector in ways that they are not used to, and researchers should become more involved in the practice of action towards reducing FLW.
Fundamentally, collaboration is key. Rather than wait for one game-changing development, all of us (as food system actors) should contribute to changing the game – with bottom-up actions of small steps and trial-and-error with the potential to catalyse wider developments, and by making the political and economic conditions right for sustainable change.
Stroosnijder: “We hope to inspire all readers to take a greater interest in our food system and the ways to make this more sustainable and equitable, where food resources are used optimally without losses and waste. Systemic change starts with small steps, and progresses with numerous more small steps. We invite the reader to think about the food system they want to be a part of, and to make this happen”.