Food waste a contributor to global emissions

Food waste a contributor to global emissions

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Date: 3rd July 2015
Author: CDKN Africa
Type: Feature
Countries: Africa, Kenya
Tags: journalism

KENYA - Charles Njuguna toiled on his farm day-in, day-out trying to ensure that his crops remained healthy to earn him a good income. And when he recorded a bumper harvest he knew his financial woes were going to be a thing of the past.

But when he started harvesting, his happiness turned into despair when he could not take his produce to the market due to impassable roads. He started incurring heavy losses as his produce started rotting on the farm while others got stuck on the impassable roads transporting them.

1.3 billion tonnes of wasted annually

Graphic detailing food loss across the globe.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations (FAO), studies show that more than 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted every year around the world due to various reasons.

In Africa and developing or low income countries, poor infrastructure and undeveloped production are the main causes of food loss. Studies have now revealed that food waste is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Greenhouse gas emissions result in climate change which is blamed for causing drought, floods, disease, food shortage and water scarcity among others.

According to FAO, food waste is estimated to contribute 3.3 Gt of CO2 equivalent in climate change and mitigation measures are required to reverse this trend.

The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified the mitigation potential of food losses and waste to be 0.6-6.0 Gt CO2 eq per year of GHG emission savings in 2050.

Lawyer Lydia Omuko, an environmental expert, says there’s a high rate of food wastage in Africa yet the continent has a very high rate of poverty and undernourishment.

“The difference with the food wastage in developed countries is that in developed countries, it occurs at the consumer level while in developing countries, Kenya included, it occurs earlier in supply chain, especially during processing and transportation,” she notes.

Food waste blamed on poor processing and storage

Ms Omuko said Africa and Kenya’s food wastage has been attributed to, firstly inadequate infrastructure for food transportation, processing, storage and cooling, which accounts for approximately 40 percent of food wastage.

“Secondly, the European Cosmetic Standards accounts for approximately 15 – 30 percent of food wastage, mainly from vegetables and fruits. The fruits and vegetables are usually rejected by European supermarkets for being the wrong size, shape or simply for not being attractive,” she adds.

Ms Omuko concedes that indeed, food wastage is a big contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

“In 2013, FAO released a report that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest carbon emitter in the world after the US and China,” she says.

According to the report, food wastage is the largest source of global greenhouse gas emissions after China and the USA.

Considering the amount of food wasted in Kenya and Africa in general, its contribution to the continent’s emission is relatively high.

Mitigation measures

Ms Omuko says there are many examples of mitigation measures that need to be put in place.

She gave the example of a horticultural company called Vegpro Limited in Kenya which had come up with measures to deal with food wastage.

“After the fresh produce and flowers for export are produced, wastes such as spent vegetables, vegetable out grades, rose rejects and farm produced “green crops” that are left are decomposed and used as fertilizer for the farm,” she revealed.

In addition to using them as fertilizer, the company is using the horticultural waste for producing biogas. The company has set up a biogas plant within its Gorge farm.

The plant is fed with approximately 120 tonnes of organic waste, not just from its own farms but also from farms nearby. The plant is expected to add 2.4 MW of electricity to the national grid.

“Considering that the food wastage in Kenya and Africa in general occurs at the early stages in the food supply chain, food redistribution would reduce the food wastage. This basically means taking unused, edible food that has been rejected by the “cosmetic markets” and redistributing to the people who need it,” she added.

Ms Omuko said this will require improved infrastructure specifically a good transportation and storage system to enable redistribute the food to the readily available market.

“The other obvious thing to do would be to use the wasted vegetables to feed animals,” she observed.


Patrick Mayoyo is the founder and Editorial Director of, a website dedicated to highlighting environmental and ecological issues in Kenya, Africa and globally. Mr Mayoyo was one of five African journalists supported by CDKN to attend COP 20 in Lima, Peru in 2014 and has been supported through a CDKN project that promotes the communicating of climate change issues in African media. The journalists have also been tasked with articulating the position of the African Group of Negotiators in mainstream media.

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