1 June 2023
The donation of surplus food for human consumption that cannot be prevented within the food system addresses several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, yet, according to the Global Foodbanking Network (GFN), only 1% of surplus food is donated globally.
How do we draw from international practice and enable food donation to be fully integrated into a systemic approach to tackle food loss and waste at increased scale and impact?
We live in challenging times – climate change, biodiversity loss, conflict, inflation. All of which create turbulence within the global food system whilst generating a humanitarian crisis.
According to Action Against Hunger, almost one in ten people globally don't have enough food to eat with 3.1 billion people not being able to afford a healthy, nutritious diet. On top of this, 43 million people in 38 countries across the globe are at risk of falling into famine or a severe hunger crisis.
For the past two decades, WRAP has been encouraging food system stakeholders in the UK and internationally to operate at the top of the food and drink material hierarchy, where food donation for human consumption is second to food waste prevention. This has been reinforced through public private partnerships (PPP’s) adopting the principles of Target, Measure, Act and stakeholder collaboration to address common barriers. In the UK, the Courtauld Commitment has seen a sixth year-on-year rise in donated food. 2021 alone saw more than 106,000 tonnes of surplus food - the equivalent of 253 million meals - were recovered via charitable and commercial outlets with a value of more than £330 million.
WRAP and the Global Foodbanking Network (GFN) are long term allies with a shared vision for international effort, a better environment and a nourished society. In May 2020, GFN were a partner in a major international project managed by WRAP, FLAWLESS (Halving Food Loss And Waste by Leveraging Economic Systems), developing PPP’s and leveraging economic systems in Indonesia, South Africa and Mexico to halve food loss and waste.
BAMX (Red de Bancos de Alimentos de Mexico), is a GFN member composed of 53 Food Banks across the Republic, rescuing food throughout the value chain to nourish families, communities and institutions. Through the FLAWLESS project, BAMX became the in-country partner to develop and manage a national food waste PPP, launched in 2021 as ‘Pacto por la Comida’.
The initiative with WRAP as ethical partner, involving major food manufacturers and retail businesses goes from strength to strength, acting as beacon of best practice for Latin America. In 2022, WRAP and BAMX were awarded a project by the Posner Foundation of Pittsburgh to shape the consumer environment to reduce food waste in Mexico, supporting Pacto por la Comida activity.
In March of this year, I had the opportunity to spend time in Mexico with the BAMX team to work on our collective food waste reduction projects and to better understand the food donation operation. The timing of the trip coincided with the publication of BAMX’s 2022 Annual Report (149,400,081kg of surplus food collected and distributed to 1,718,466 beneficiaries) and the hosting of the GFN Food Bank Leadership Institute on the theme of ‘Food Banking in an Age of Volatility’ in Mexico City.
There was opportunity to visit two of the food banks in the BAMX network, BAMX EDOMEX in Toluca and BAMX Puebla. On top of the impressive scale of food donation logistics and processing – it demonstrated ingenuity, stakeholder collaboration and connection with society. In Toluca, tonnes of surplus tomatoes are pureed on-site on a daily basis, extending perishable life and providing a universal ingredient to support nutritious meals.
Providing communities with the cooking skills to utilise donated food goes hand in hand, BAMX EDOMEX had a training kitchen on-site with the network engaging directly with recipients on nutritional advice. In Puebla, I got to cut and box celery from the field for donation, demonstrating the opportunities across the supply chain to capture and manage surplus. Across the network, the scale of food donated and transported is a testament to BAMX’s relationships with the food industry and their charitable commitment.
The Food Bank Leadership Institute brought together the food banking sector from over 40 countries to share best practice such as that demonstrated by BAMX and to discuss community orientated solutions in response to volatile times. Several key topics were discussed in pursuit of driving systemic change with inspirational examples:
- The role of policy and collaboration – the PPP model was highlighted as a mechanism to help shape strategy, enable consensus on a shared ambition and empower the private sector to act with examples from the US (PCFWC), Indonesia (GRASP 2030) as well as Mexico.
- The role of data and technology – there were a number of examples of food banks developing cloud-based inventory systems to not only provide accurate reporting but inform where donated food should go to best serve need. Technology is also being used to identified surplus produce, field satellite imagery in Israel can identify on farm opportunities.
- The role of a customer centric approach – several initiatives were highlighted to aid recipient experience, including ordering products online and the use of vending machines.
- The role of funding – the recent announcement of the partnership with BAMX and Core Zero to trade carbon credits from the food donated in Mexico demonstrated an innovative way to diversify funding sources.
Plus, a key ingredient – the role of human spirit and compassion. Representatives from the Ukrainian food bank, established and mobilised in response to the conflict whilst risking life to distribute parcels, received a standing ovation.
Necessity is the mother of invention. We need to redefine our global food system so that is resourceful, feeds future generations and addresses hunger for all. Commitment, innovation, investment and collaboration can get us there if we all take responsibility. We cannot rely on hope but be inspired to deliver as a result of it – even during challenging times, there are numerous examples that we learn from, adapt and build from.
Surplus food and food loss and waste are intrinsically linked with the system – they are both encourage an efficient use of resources. From WRAP experience of PPP’s, preventing food loss and waste across the supply chain can identify further sources of surplus food that can be donated. A holistic approach is required to drive lasting change – in policy and practice.
WRAP is working closely with BAMX as beacon of best practice on food loss and waste in Mexico, to inspire Latin America and beyond. We need to strive to continually raise standards as the need remains to drive down food loss and waste and to feed the vulnerable. My lasting experience from Mexico is that our efforts really do make a difference.
Making sure no good food goes to waste.
5 July 2022