Remarks at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Conference on World Food Day

Delivered on: 16 October 2013

Global Food Losses and Waste: from Reduction to Prevention for a Sustainable Agro-Food System

Today—as on every World Food Day—much has been said about what we must do to achieve the goal of a food- and nutrition-secure global community.  Yes, we must reduce waste.  Yes, we must provide access to markets.  Yes, we must include women.  And yes, we all agree.

To bring this home, I would like to share with you the story of Abebech Toga*, an Ethiopian farmer and a mother of six.  Abebech lives in the Southern Nations region of Ethiopia, where she dreams of sending her children to college.  She markets her corn and her coffee through her local cooperative.  Abebech studies market trends everywhere, not just from her local outdoor bazaar in her town of Sodo, but she also studies market trends for the Chicago Board of Trade.  Abebech monitors the latest prices over the radio and through her cell phone.  She dreams of a day when she can harness the power of this information, and of a day with access to better roads, so that she can connect not only to her local market, but also to her regional, national and someday even the international marketplace.

Yes, Abebach is a small farmer but she dreams big.  I have read that the walls of her mud hut home are decorated with posters of the periodic table, the English alphabet and a picture of President Obama.  She displays all of these items to inspire and encourage her children.

As a participant in WFP’s Purchase for Progress (P4P) programme, Abebach is a designated trainer of other farmers in her village.  She teaches farmers how to reduce moisture in their crops and to prevent post-harvest losses.  Through the P4P programme, her harvest is guaranteed by a reliable buyer for the surplus she produces, again helping her to sell her produce and avoid waste, in a way that only reliable market access can provide.  When asked what she needs, Abebach said that a farmer needs a dry and safe place to store her grain and she needs access to a market.

Over the past five years, P4P has supported hundreds of thousands of women and men like Abebach.  By partnering with others, including FAO and IFAD, P4P provides farmers with the tools that they need to produce, to properly handle, as well as, store their harvest.  By using WFP’s comparative advantage as a buyer, we catalyse commercial market opportunities by serving as an initial, reliable market-purchaser again reducing loss and waste.  P4P also specifically reaches out to women, and supports their participation.  Because, our actions must fully recognize the central role that women farmers like Abebach play from production to harvest, and to ensuring that families consume nutritious foods.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is why we meet here today.  Our efforts must translate into reality for the Abebachs in every community around the world.  Yes, each year, we produce more than enough food to feed all of the world’s seven billion people.  Yet in the developed world, much food is lost through disposal and waste, while in the developing world up to 40 per cent of harvests are lost due to poor handling, lack of storage and market inaccessibility.  If we are to feed the projected global population of 9.5 billion people by 2050, we must increase food production by 60 per cent and we must reduce losses in every community by 100 percent.  We recognize that increasing agriculture production, without also reducing waste through efforts like improved market access for the Abebachs around the world, we will not achieve our shared goal of a hunger free world.

Yes, the tools exist and the knowledge exists.  What we need is the global public will.  We must continue to embrace effective Rome-based partnerships, such as through the Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction.  We must continue to participate in global platforms including the CFS, the SUN, the SCN and the HLTF, calling for sustained investment in country-led, community-benefiting strategies.  And, we must help create successful public outreach opportunities, such as Italy’s Expo 2015.

Let’s us dream big like Abebach and let us remember the words of T.E. Lawrence who said that “all men dream but not equally.   Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds awake to find that it was vanity; but dreamers of day are dangerous men, that they may dream with open eyes to make it possible.”

The time for the possible is now.

*Abebach Toga’s story can be found in full, Endless Appetites: How the Commodities Casino Creates Hunger and Unrest by Alan Bjerga.