Packaging as a solution to food loss and waste - UN SAVE FOOD initiative - Interview with Joseph Mpagalile of the UN

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Just a few weeks ago, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other partners launched the Think.Eat.Save. Reduce Your Foodprint campaign in support of the SAVE FOOD Initiative to reduce food loss and waste along the entire chain of food production and consumption. Packaging plays a big role in this global strategy and Joseph Mpagalile of the UN's FAO will be on hand at Sustainability in Packaging 2013 to address Food Waste and Food Packaging: Extent, Causes and Solutions, and the Link with Developing Countries. Joseph shared his insights into this program, FAO's recent efforts and why this is such an important subject for the packaging industry in a recent interview with us. 

Joseph Mpagalile, Food and Agriculture Organization, United Nations

Save Food
Can you share with us the latest efforts of the Save Food program by FAO?

The Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction - SAVE FOOD - is founded and led by FAO and Messe Düsseldorf (trade fair organizer of Interpack, for the food packaging and process industry). It rests on four main pillars:

  1. Awareness raising on the impact of, and solutions for food loss and waste. This will be achieved by a global communication and media campaign, the dissemination of Save Food programme findings and results, and the organization of Regional SAVE FOOD Congresses. Important goals are increased knowledge and changed behaviour of actors and consumers in the food chains, and promotion of the SAVE FOOD initiative to attract partners.

    Latest Effort:

    Save Food has linked with the UN Environment Programme to implement the campaign on food waste. The launch will be on 22 January 2013.

    Save Food organized a side event of the FAO Council in on 4 December 2012 at FAO Headquarters whereby key partners gathered to present and discuss ways to reduce and reuse food waste.
  2. Collaboration and coordination of world-wide initiatives on food loss and waste reduction. SAVE FOOD is establishing a global partnership of public and private sector organizations and companies that are active in the fight against food loss and waste. In order to develop, plan and implement interventions and use resources most efficiently, it is essential that all these initiatives are being coordinated well, so that everybody knows what is happening world-wide, that information, problems and solutions can be shared, and that methodologies, strategies and approaches will be harmonised.

    Latest Effort:

    Save Food has established a network of public and private partners in an interactive database. See http://www.fao.org/save-food/get-involved/en/
  3. Policy, strategy and programme development for food loss and waste reduction. This includes a series of field studies on a national-regional basis, combining a food chain approach to loss assessments with cost-benefit analyses to determine which food loss reduction interventions provide the best returns on investment. Further, the Initiative undertakes studies to the socio-economic impacts of food loss and waste, the political and regulatory framework that affects food loss and waste, and the special role of food packaging in developing countries.

    Latest Effort:

    - Save Food has nearly completed the field case studies in Kenya, involving food supply chains of maize, banana, fish and milk.
    - FAO - Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries Division is a partner in the FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies) project. The project runs for 4 years and is funded by the European Commission Framework Programme 7. FUSIONS is a project working towards achieving a more resource efficient Europe by significantly reducing food losses and waste.
  4. Support to investment programmes and projects, implemented by private and public sectors. This includes technical and managerial support for, as well as capacity building (training) of food supply chain actors and organizations involved in food loss and waste reduction, either at the food subsector level or policy level.

    Latest Effort:

    FAO is implementing projects to support the reduction of food losses in Africa by policy development and capacity building, and a project on food packaging in Southeast Asia.

Your talk at the conference will be centered on food waste and the role of packaging to prevent it - can you briefly recommend the packaging professionals reading this why it is important to learn more about this issue on a global scale?
Global studies conducted by different stakeholders have consistently shown high levels of food loss and food wastes in different regions of the world. FAO's report on 'Global food losses and food waste' estimated that nearly 1.3 billion tons or one third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. Other estimates have shown that up to 35% of cereals and 55% of fruits and vegetables never reach the consumers due to food loss and wastage along the value chain. These data are extremely high and there is an urgent need to address the problem if we have to meet the increasing food demand, considering the projections by FAO and other organizations which indicate that global food demand is expected to increase by 40% in the next three decades.

Food loss and waste occur at different stages in the food system, such as during production, postharvest handling, processing, distribution and consumption. Furthermore, the problem involves various players from smallholders to large -scale farmers, small to large processors, transporters, traders and retailers and consumers themselves. This nature of food loss shows that multifaceted solutions and approaches are needed to address the food loss and waste problem and that one solution alone is likely to fail.

One of the solutions to food loss and food waste problem is to use appropriate food packaging. On a global scale food packaging ensures food security and safety and tends to enhance food trade. Food packaging is important since besides facilitation of local and international trade including enhancement of export competitiveness, it ensures food loss prevention, food safety, protection and enhancement of logistics including better inventory control, variety and differentiation, and product identification. All these benefits contribute towards reduction of the global food loss and food waste. With the industry drivers such as the need for modern retailing, supermarkets, changing consumer demands and changing technology options, and needs for the commodity chains, the importance and contribution of food packaging does not need to be overemphasized. As mentioned above, it is therefore important to learn more about the role of food packaging on a global scale bearing in mind its importance in reducing food loss and food waste.

What are you looking forward to hearing at Sustainability in Packaging 2013?
I believe that the wealth of experience from different parts of the world is necessary to articulate opportunities and challenges that packaging could bring in reducing global food loss and food waste. It is my expectation that the conference will provide a good opportunity for interaction and sharing of experiences among participants from different backgrounds such as industry, academia and development partners. I expect that the conference would create a platform for participants to make connections and interact in our pursuits to enhance packaging and reduce global food loss and food waste in a more sustainable way.

I would therefore like to hear presentations and discussions which provoke further thoughts, ideas and creativity. I expect to learn about the latest information and techniques on food packaging development and its contribution towards reduction of food losses and food waste. I also expect to hear about the efforts that other organizations are making in developing efficient and sustainable packaging solutions to address challenges facing the global food processing industry.

 Smithers Pira's Sustainability in Packaging conference and exhibition will take place March 13-15, 2013 in Orlando, FL and Joseph Mpagalile is just one of the many top-level speakers will be on hand at Sustainability in Packaging 2013. The 2013 program brings more new speakers than ever before together with a diverse group of brand owners -- Dell, Office Depot and Hasbro are just a few who will be presenting -- to share their views on everything from market research into what consumers want to how they are looking to reduce waste in the future. Other organizations presenting include 3M; BASF; DuPont Packaging and Industrial Polymers; European Bioplastics; Henkel Corporation; Innovia Technology; Nestlé; Pangea Organics; PepsiCo; Quidsi Inc., a subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc.; Ready Pac Foods Inc.; Sealed Air Corporation; The Coca-Cola Company; The Kellogg Company; UPS; WasteZero and many others. Visit www.sustainability-in-packaging.com for the most up-to-date agenda and to register.

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