Back to search

Food loss and waste and the linkage to land and global ecosystems

THE IMPACT OF FOOD, FEED AND FIBRE 
Plants and animals provide most of our food, clothing and footwear. This means that food, feed (animal)and fibre (for clothing) all compete for arable land. And demand is growing due to population growth and increasing global middle classes.  
Food

  • The global volume of food wastage is estimated at 1.6 billion tonnes of "primary product equivalents." Total food wastage for the edible part of this amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes.
  • Food wastage's carbon footprint is estimated at 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent of GHG released into the atmosphere per year.
  • The total volume of water used each year to produce food that is lost or wasted (250km3) is equivalent to the annual flow of Russia's Volga River, or three times the volume of Lake Geneva. (FAO)
  • An extra 593 million hectares of agricultural land, an area nearly twice the size of India, will be required by 2050 over 2010 levels.
  • Over the same period, the world will need to produce an extra 74,000 trillion calories, equivalent to an increase in crop calories of 56%.
  • One-third of all food produced each year is lost or wasted, while 821 million people are undernourished.
  • This is equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes of food with a footprint of 1.4 billion hectares, close to 30% of the world’s agricultural land area. This represents a surface larger than Canada and India together. 
  •  The demand for water in food production could reach 10-13 trillion cubic metres annually by mid-century – up to 3.5 times greater than the total human use of fresh water today. 
  • The major features of the regional profiles of commodities presented in Figure 29 (FAO report) are as follows:
  • Surfaces of non-arable land occupied to produce lost/wasted milk and meat contribute as much as 46–85 percent of the total land occupation of food wastage in each region.
  • Lost/wasted milk and meat account for large surfaces of arable land. Arable land used by these commodities contributes to more than 10 percent of total land occupation of food wastage in all regions except NA,WA&CA and S&SE Asia, where production systems rely more on grasslands, which are low productive.
  • Among food crops, the largest contributors to land occupation of food wastage are cereals. Arable land used to grow uneaten cereals contribute to 4–15 percent of total land occupation of food wastage in each region.
  • In spite of significant food wastage volumes, starchy roots, vegetables and legumes are not very visible in the profiles because of their generally high yields (Source FAO)

Feed

  • Land used for grazing and grain production to feed animals accounts for 80% of agricultural land globally.
  • Beef production in Europe requires 80 times more land than is needed to produce cereals.
  • 85% of the world’s fur trade originates from farmed animals, meaning that they also require land to produce feed.

Fibre

  • By 2030, the fashion industry is predicted to use 35% more land – over 115 million hectares, equivalent to the size of Colombia.
  • The amount of clothes bought in the EU per person has increased by 40% in just a few decades.
  • The fashion industry consumes around 93 billion cubic metres of water per year

Land degradation 
Food, feed and fibre must also compete with expanding cities and the fuel industry, which are also gobbling up land at rapid rates. The end result is that land is being converted and degraded at unsustainable rates.

  • Today, more than two billion hectares of previously productive land is degraded.  
  • Over 70% of natural ecosystems have been transformed, primarily to produce food, feed, fibre and fuel. By 2050, this could reach 90%.

WHAT WE CAN DO 

With changes in consumer and corporate behaviour, and the adoption of more efficient land use planning and more sustainable land management practices, we will have enough land to meet the demand for essentials and for a wider array of goods and services.8 
Urbanization and globalization means that land degradation is driven by demand for products that are consumed in urban areas or other countries. This puts responsibility land degradation on the doorstep of every individual consumer. The choices people make when buying food or clothing have long-term consequences on the land, and on the future generations. 
Consumers can make a positive difference because government policy and suppliers are extremely sensitive to individual market choices. If every consumer were to buy products that do not degrade the land, suppliers will cut back the flow of these products, and send a powerful signal to the producer of the change needed to stay in business.  Changing our diet and shopping behaviours can free up land for other uses and lower carbon emissions. Dietary change alone can free up between 80 and 240 million hectares of land.

Specific actions consumers can take include:

  • Shift to more a balanced diet, featuring plant-based foods – such as those based on coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. This will improve your health, reduce demand for agricultural land and water, contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation and preserve habitats.  
  • Ensure the meat you consume is grown ethically and sustainably, ideally from animals that are fed locally.
  • Shop for groceries at local farmer’s markets and seek out locally grown produce in the supermarket to support local farmers and reduce the carbon footprint of the food from the farm to their table.
  • When you cannot buy locally grown food, choose a supermarket that is dedicated to revealing where products and ingredients are produced, including their impact on land, all through the scan of a barcode. Many supermarkets today are investing in 'farm-to-table' food traceability blockchain solutions of this kind.  Read further from UNCCD 

More on  food loss and food wastage  from UNCCD Library resources and special Desertification and Drought Day 17 June page

DID YOU KNOW: One-third of all food produced each year is lost or wasted, while 821 million people are undernourished.This is equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes of food with a footprint of 1.4 billion hectares, close to 30% of the world’s agricultural land area. This represents a surface larger than Canada and India together. ( UNCCD Background paper for 17 June 2020 Desertification and Drought Day Food. Feed. Fibre. )

food waste