Taiwan takes a lead in saving food

By Eric Chiou 邱奕宏  / 

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 - Page 8

Recently, Taiwan’s “food paradise” reputation has been severely damaged by a series of food scandals related to the illegal use of chemical substances.

While the cloud over food safety has become a terrible nightmare for Taiwanese, one piece of news did not draw much attention. This is a shame, because it recognizes Taiwan’s outstanding leadership in the global issue of reducing food waste.

Taiwan’s APEC initiative of “Strengthening Public-Private Partnership to Reduce Food Losses in the Supply Chain,” was approved by the APEC Budget and Management Committee early this month, with APEC contributing about US$498,000 for project implementation over five years.

How to reduce food losses and waste has become an increasingly pressing issue in recent years, demonstrated by the 2007-2008 global food crisis.

The reasons can be attributed to the following factors: rising pressure of population growth, imbalance of food demand and supply, and the impacts of climate change and extreme weather on food production.

A chilling and undeniable reality is that despite the development of advanced technology in agriculture, the capabilities to boost food production alone can no longer constitute the only and sustainable answer for ensuring food security in the long run.

As a result, reducing food losses and waste has gradually emerged as one of the practical solutions to enhancing food security.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the world’s population is expected to grow by nearly 30 percent to 9.1 billion people by 2050, which will require a 70 percent increase in food production and a 50 percent rise in investment in agriculture to feed an additional 2 billion people.

While booming population growth is a massive burden on the environment, energy supplies, water resources and food supplies, the amount of unnecessary food losses and waste has rapidly escalated, becoming an issue that cannot be ignored.

UN research shows that about one-third of the edible parts of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. This results in about 1.3 billion tonnes of food per year and is equivalent to the total amount of food produced in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.

With regard to fruit and vegetables, post-harvest food losses can reach 50 percent or more. According to the research conducted by the UN’s Industrial Development Organization in Asia alone, post-harvest losses are estimated at 30 percent of global food production annually, valued at US$5 billion.

Despite slightly different definitions among academics, food “losses” refer to the unintended result that food spills, spoils or incurs an unusual reduction in quality, or food simply gets lost through the length of the supply chain before it reaches the consumer.

Food “waste,” on the other hand, represents food in good quality and suitable for human consumption that is not consumed or is discarded, which usually occurs at the end of the food supply chain.

While the former is likely due to backward agricultural technologies and skills and poor infrastructure, the latter tends to be the result of negligence or a deliberate decision to throw food away.

In response to the devastating impacts and consequential outcomes of excessive food losses and waste, several international organizations have called for immediate action on this matter.

For instance, the UN Environment Programme and the FAO have set the theme for this year’s World Environment Day celebration as “Think. Eat. Save. Reduce Your Foodprint.” They also launched an anti-food-waste and food-loss campaign on June 5 in Mongolia with the objective of slashing food loss and waste.

Likewise, as the most influential and active regional dialogue forum in the Asia-Pacific region, APEC has recognized the importance of food security and made it one of the priorities in its agenda in recent years.

In particular, reducing food losses has been repeatedly underscored in both the 2010 Niigata Declaration and last year’s Kazan Declaration on APEC Food Security, as well as last year’s APEC Economic Leaders’ Declaration.

Hence, it is reasonable to say that the importance of cutting food losses in terms of food security has become a widespread consensus in the international community.

Last year, against this backdrop, the Council of Agriculture contemplated a project that would address food losses in the APEC region.

After convening a series of intensive discussions with academics, experts and representatives from the private sector, the proposal named “Strengthening Public-Private Partnership to Reduce Food Losses in the Supply Chain,” was finalized early this year.

With assiduous lobbying by council officials and in-time assistance from the Chinese Taipei APEC Study Center, this project drew support among APEC economies and won the endorsement of thirteen members as co-sponsors of the project in spring this year.

The project was successfully recommended by the APEC Secretariat last month and finally approved by the committee on June 5 with an impressive amount of APEC funding.

The project has become one of few APEC multi-year projects initiated and led by Taiwan in recent years.

More importantly, this project is holistic, ambitious, pragmatic and forward-looking. It aims to address post-harvest losses in all stages of the food supply chain in the APEC region by strengthening public-private partnership.

The project intends to establish a practical toolkit to reduce food losses, which is designed to provide practical solutions suitable for the Asia-Pacific environment, while enabling APEC developing economies to advance their agricultural productivity by adopting them.

In addition to generating workable solutions, concrete policy recommendations and action plans for cutting food losses, the project attempts to develop a consolidated methodology of food losses assessment for APEC economies. This methodology will be beneficial for identifying the progress made by each economy in reducing food losses.

Given the complexity of post-harvest losses and the unique features of APEC, which covers both developed and developing economies, this project has been specifically tailored to satisfy the different needs of APEC economies.

Meanwhile, in light of an important role played by the private sector in reducing food losses, this project also highlights the active involvement of the private sector by underscoring the public-private partnership, which will take their voices into account and make the outputs of this project more practical and sensible to those involved along the entire food supply chain.

As a result, this project is designed to be implemented in three phases within five years: phase I (2013): identification of key issues; phase II (2014-2016): investigation of food losses; and phase III (2017): consolidation.

Essentially, phase I is to provide a broader understanding of food losses and to identify critical issues and challenges.

Phase II will be built on the solid foundation of phase I and focuses on different kinds of food losses and wastes from fruit and vegetables, fishery and livestock products and food waste from households, restaurants and supermarkets.

Phase III will synthesize the progress made over the period of the project’s implementation and finalize the project outputs, such as a consolidated methodology of APEC food losses assessment, toolkit and dataset.

Most importantly, a high-level policy dialogue meeting will be held in Taipei to set the follow-up strategies and ongoing action plans needed to reduce food losses, which will help to achieve the final goal of food security.

Overall, this remarkable achievement made by Taiwan shows an innovation and passion that deserves more attention and credit.

First, it shows that while Taiwan has been excluded by most international organizations, it still has a robust capacity and the expertise to create a well-designed project, convincing enough to draw support from other countries.

Second, this case also demonstrates that with a clear objective, profound strategies and unwavering determination, the nation can make a global difference while both enhancing the nation’s role in the international community and also maximizing national interests.

Finally, it enlightens us that a small state can still assume leadership on the global issues.

As long as it uses its strengths wisely on the right topic, a small state, such as Taiwan, can take a lead on the world stage and make an indispensable contribution to the global society.

Eric Chiou is an associate research fellow in the Chinese Taipei APEC Study Center of Taiwan Institute of Economic Research.