The facts are staggering- a third of the food our planet produces is lost or wasted, roughly 1.3 billion tonnes a year. This is taking place right across the supply chain- from initial harvest to unsold items to food thrown away by households- and therefore calls for an equally wide range of solutions.
At the harvest stage, one proposition is increasing access to affordable and effective cooling technologies. Two thirds of the world’s food wastage happens in Asia and Africa, and these are also the regions where cold chain capacity is often rudimentary or non-existent. The International Institute of Refrigeration has estimated that if developing countries had the same level of cold chain as developed nations, they could save 200 million tonnes of perishable food each year.
However, cooling technology has traditionally been extremely polluting- until now. There is increasing awareness of the negative impact of diesel, not least on air quality and public health. The Paris Agreement on tackling climate change underscored the need to ensure economic development happens as cleanly as possible, and cold chains are no exception. So although strengthening cold chains for developing countries is vital for tackling food waste, at the heart of that must be clean cold.
Clean cold can have a real impact
Dearman is one example of a British company innovating clean cold and actively looking at how it can support development abroad. Proliferating affordable cooling technologies for use by farmers has the potential to reduce food lost at the harvest stage, therefore increasing the amount of food reaching markets, lowering prices for consumers and boosting incomes for farmers. This is what Dearman aims to do in its recently launched project in South Africa, where food loss is valued at £4.7 billion a year.
Most of South Africa’s farming operations are carried out by small farmers, for whom low incomes make it difficult to access effective cooling technologies. Currently at an early stage, Dearman forecasts that eventually deploying 250 units of its mobile cooling system could help South African farmers save 450,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetable during the immediate post-harvest stage, and that farmer incomes could be boosted by 12%. That is the significant kind of impact that cooling technologies can have.
Clean cold can have a global impact
Make no mistake that this is a global challenge, and at the Food Foundation we welcome the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to “halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030”. The University of Birmingham published a major report looking at how clean cold could help deliver the SDGs. If even half of the world’s food wastage could be saved, this would feed an additional one billion people. The forecasted rise in the world’s population- of two billion people by 2050- makes it all the more imperative we cut back on food waste.
Furthermore, there are many other benefits from supporting clean cold chains: healthier lives as less medicines are destroyed in transit, less child labour as more kids can go to school rather than work on farms, halving food waste would save enough water to fill Lake Geneva three times over, women could be empowered through boosted incomes, especially in countries like Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda, where women make up 70% of the agricultural workforce. That is the kind of future we can all get behind and the kind of future that clean cold technologies- like the Dearman engine– can help deliver.
Laura Sandys is CEO of the Food Foundation. She was previously Conservative Member of Parliament for South Thanet (2010-2015).