Food Waste and World Hunger – The Food Supply Chain is Broken!


There are many different Supply Chains in the World covering every industry, every business or institution and every aspect of our lives.  But the single most important Supply Chain is the Food Supply Chain!  Our very survival depends on there even being a Food Supply Chain.

But there are two very opposite, yet unacceptable, problems in this Supply Chain.  On one hand there is a horrendously large amount of Food Waste.  Yet on the other hand an enormous portion of humanity suffers from Hunger!  The Food Supply Chain, the most important Supply Chain in the World, is BROKEN!

The Problems

Hunger and food waste

Food Waste

Over 1/3 of all the food that is produced in the world is wasted!  That is over 1.3 Billion tonnes of food every year.  Over half of all fruits and vegetables that are produced are wasted.

According to the World Food Programme  “in Developed Countries food is often wasted on the plate, while in developing countries it is lost in production, as crops go unused or unprocessed because of poor storage or because the farmers cannot get their goods to market”.  

Food is wasted at every stage of the Supply Chain, as shown in the following table.  Consumers are the biggest source of food waste in developed countries as they discard at least 20-30% of what they purchase.  Grocery stores overstock items or discard food that is not aesthetically pleasing.  And problems in harvesting, quality standards, storage, shipping costs, and handling all create food waste.


Table Source:  

The amount of food waste far exceeds that of any other commodity whether that be paper, plastics, metals, textiles or anything else.

On top of the obvious concerns about food waste (which include the waste of water, land, and other resources used to produce,process, and handle the food) it is also notable that only 3% of wasted food is actually composted.  The result is that food waste creates 8% of all greenhouse gases in the world!   “If food waste were a country it’s carbon footprint (and greenhouse gas emissions) would be third to only China and the United States.”  

World Hunger

One in 9 people in the world, that is 800 Million people, are hungry and suffer from chronic undernourishment each and every day!

The hunger problem spans the globe however the highest concentrations of malnutrition are in Asia (510 Million people), Africa (230 Million people) and Latin America (34 Million people).  But as we know developed countries have portions of their populations that go hungry as well.

There are many reasons for world hunger.  Poverty is the number one reason for hunger in addition to climate change, weather, war and conflicts, policies, lack of investment in agriculture, population growth, market dynamics and food waste.

“However there is now 17% more food available per person than there was 30 years ago.  If all the world’s food were evenly distributed, there would be enough for everyone to get 2,700 calories per day – which is more than the minimum 2,100 requirement for proper health. So the challenge is not a lack of food, it’s making food consistently available to everyone who needs it.” Source:  

Food Waste Meets World Hunger

As we’ve discussed there is enough food produced in the world to feed everyone in a “perfect world”.  Among many of the other actions being taken or considered to reduce hunger how could a reduction in Food Waste impact World Hunger?

According to “Just one quarter of all wasted food could feed the 795 million undernourished people around the world who suffer from hunger”.  

That’s right!  Despite all of the other causes of hunger if  we could reduce only 25% of all wasted food and redirect that food to those who are starving we could theoretically feed everyone in the world!

Food Waste and World Hunger: The Role and Responsibility of the Supply Chain

As human beings I believe everyone can intuitively understand why it is important to both reduce food waste and reduce world hunger.  But for those of us who work in the Supply Chain profession we have a unique opportunity to create and deploy the processes, tools, and systems that can make these objectives a reality.

Refer back to the table we showed earlier on “Food Waste by Supply Chain Stage”.  If you scan down the column entitled “Potential Remedies” you can quickly see where Supply Chain can make an impact.

Better Supply-Demand planning, Quality management, transportation lead time reduction, distribution network optimization, cycle time reduction, better handling, more effective storage, real time order management, and reverse logistics improvement are all within the purvey of Supply Chain.

Future technologies also have applicability in helping reduce Food waste.  The deployment of real time end-to-end Supply Chain visibility, Blockchain, Advanced Analytics and Artificial Intelligence all have the potential to help improve some aspect of the Food Supply Chain.

Remember we are looking for a 25% reduction in Food Waste.  Everyone in Supply Chain has experienced being asked to improve some metric by 25% or more.  So it is not unrealistic, despite all of the inevitable challenges, that a reduction in Food Waste can be accomplished resulting in a commensurate reduction in World Hunger!

Certainly these problems are the responsibility of everyone: every person,  every government, every business and institution and every country.  But Supply Chain professionals have such an incredible and powerful skill set and experience base that they are uniquely qualified to help solve these global problems.

Tell us what you think!

How can the Supply Chain help reduce Food Waste and reduce World Hunger?

Originally published on May 22, 2018.

One thought on “Food Waste and World Hunger – The Food Supply Chain is Broken!”

  1. Still true after all these years! As a supply chain person, I have seen this type of article and am still surprised that we have made so little progress. It is also easy to say “my supply chain doesn’t have these issues” or “many of these things are out of my (and my company’s) control”. While these thing may be true, are we at least helping in getting the word out. Are we pushing for and getting our company to make waste reduction part of our marketing? We must do what we can, wherever we are in the supply chain (including as a consumer).

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