Research indicates that more than 40% of the food produced in the world is wasted, of which about 15% which is lost at harvest time.
In this context, Irish farmers are invited to participate in a major pilot project aimed at drastically reducing this level of waste.
The pilot project is led by researchers from Circular bioeconomy research group at Munster University of Technology in Kerry, and is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM).
In association with FoodCloud – a social food distribution enterprise – researchers will explore the potential for redistributing surplus food to achieve this waste reduction objective.
Farmers participating in the pilot project will be reimbursed for all costs involved in recovering produce that might otherwise not be harvested.
This has multiple societal benefits, but with the ongoing COP26 and the recent publication of the Climate Action Plan, reducing our food waste also has an important role to play in helping to achieve our climate goals.
Waste does not want
More … than one million tonnes of general food waste are created in Ireland each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
This equates to 3.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e).
But that does not yet include waste from agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture. So in reality the amount is much higher.
That will change in 2022, when we will be required to report food waste data at all points in the supply chain – farms, restaurants and supermarkets – so that the real figure becomes evident.
Globally, however, according to the EPA, food waste is estimated to generate around 8-10% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Inevitable loss of food
Dr Tracey O’Connor, postdoctoral researcher at Circular Bioeconomy Research Group, said Agriland that farmers are very aware of the costs of food waste and do everything possible to avoid it while maintaining an economically sustainable operation.
Sometimes, however, it is inevitable.
An earlier study in which Dr O’Connor was involved found that fruit and vegetable production was largely responsible for it – without any intention on the part of the farmer.
According to this study, approximately 31% of food losses from fruits and vegetables was because the products were not salable, perhaps for aesthetic reasons, or simply because of a lack of consumer demand on a seasonal basis, Dr O’Connor said.
“This last year’s study with University College Dublin was a first step in examining the primary production side of food waste in Ireland [that is farming and fishing].
“We were trying to get an estimate of the proportion of food in Ireland that is wasted before it gets to a processor or retailer – so just at the farm level. [and harbour level]. “
The study identified some “hot spots” in the food production sector where most food waste occurs, she explained. While problems in the food supply chain can contribute to food waste, there are other reasons as well.
“Other [food] losses occur because there may be a change in the weather, forcing a crop to be harvested in full quantity before the weather changes.
“So the broccoli might have to be harvested at some point in case it bolts up and you lose the entire crop. “
If this happens, the result is unprofitable production – due to a surplus in the market – for the farmer.
“So that’s what we’re looking at now, this edible surplus – this food that is produced and is ready to be eaten but, for some reason, does not hit the supermarket shelves.”
And the concept of FoodCloud redistribution to save this food naturally linked to the production of fruits and vegetables in Ireland.
“This is exactly the kind of thing we can offer people through FoodCloud, through their food banks and through their community groups.
“We can help ensure that those who do not have access to these products – those who may not have the privilege of choosing between eating mushrooms or a leaf salad – can now access this fresh and nutritious food.” Explained Dr. O’Connor. .
From farm to fork via the food bank
The study has a number of aspects, explained Dr O’Connor.
“One is to try to better understand the amount of food [waste] is available on farms, how much is edible and how much could be collected by FoodCloud, or could be distributed to their food banks across the country.
“We have an estimate of the edible quantity, but the more farmers who participate [in the pilot study] the stronger this projection will be.
Then, logistical challenges must take into account how you actually get food from farm to fork, through a FoodCloud distribution center or food bank.
And what about the perishability factor?
“It is true that with fresh produce, you are looking for a short shelf life. But if you pick it up from a retailer it’s already on the shelves, or it’s been a few days since it left the farm, ”said Dr. O’Connor.
“If the farmer can tell you quickly enough when he knows there will be no market for the product and that it was harvested a day ago, you have a longer window than if you collect it. at a retailer, ”she added.
Farmers can participate in this pilot project supported by DAFM by two ways:
- Complete a short survey – available here – contribute to the development of essential knowledge on the potential for redistribution of edible food surpluses. This is open until November 30;
- Participate in a pilot project that will provide funding to cover the costs associated with collecting surplus food that might otherwise not be harvested for further distribution via FoodCloud.
“We now have several farmers on board and we have already started collecting food from them,” explained Dr O’Connor.
“We have an apple grower who pressed apples on his farm and then provided the juice; we have a potato producer; a market gardener who supplied potatoes and kale, leeks and onions.
“It’s really exciting to be able to offer communities such a variety of products.
Carbon budgets and emission reduction targets are now on the menu, so if reducing food waste at farm level, while helping to meet our climate targets, interests you, then click on here