Wed | Dec 6, 2023

Mario Lubetkin | Food loss and waste: An unacceptable reality

Published:Sunday | October 1, 2023 | 12:09 AM
In this June 2013 photo, discarded rotis are seen strewn along Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad, India.
In this June 2013 photo, discarded rotis are seen strewn along Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad, India.
Mario Lubetkin
Mario Lubetkin

In recent years, the population of Latin America and the Caribbean has seen a worrying increase in hunger figures, especially among the poorest in the region.

When we talk about food insecurity in our region, as in the rest of the world, we realise that this problem does not stem from deficient food production. According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates, Latin America and the Caribbean could feed more than 1.3 billion people, twice its population.

Thus, where does this problem arise? A relevant factor in this matter is food loss and waste, for which prevention is fundamental in the development of agri-food systems.

In 2019, the United Nations General Assembly first established September 29 as International Food Loss and Waste (FLW) Awareness Day, recognising the positive impact of reversing FLW can have on people’s food and nutrition security.

Four years after the declaration of this day, we must take stock of what we have achieved, look ahead, and take immediate action to reverse a complex scenario with economic, social, environmental, and moral costs.

According to FAO figures, 13 per cent of the world’s food is lost in the supply chain, from post-harvest to retail, and a further 17 per cent is wasted in households, food services, and retail. The highest levels of losses occur in nutrient-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables (32 per cent), meat, and fish (12.4 per cent).

Inefficiencies along the food chain and in consumption also have a significant impact on the environment. Therefore, preventing FLW can help to combat hunger and the consequences of climate change through greenhouse gas emissions.


Current scientific evidence points to innovative solutions that support family farming, distribution and supply systems, drive circular bio-economy actions, and target investments and funding to develop monitoring and early warning systems to prevent FLW, as well as comprehensive legal frameworks aimed at prevention. But it is still not enough.

At the end of August, the FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean organised a discussion on how to prevent and reduce FLW in the context of food security and nutrition, with the participation of the Holy See, representatives of the Chilean government, and the FAO.

This conversation explored ideas and solutions to move from reflection to action and to understand that ending the phenomenon of FLW has a direct impact on the lives of individuals and society as a whole.

The way forward is clear: to address this situation, it is imperative to work in a coordinated and multi-sectoral way to achieve results quickly. Governments, businesses, civil society and academia must join forces to generate evidence, investments in infrastructure and technology, and other measures to address this situation.

Much needs to be done. FLW must be addressed from an ethical, political and scientific perspective. We are all responsible for this challenge.

Mario Lubetkin is assistant director general and regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Food and Agriculture Organization. Send feedback to