Boats laden with fresh food.
Floating market on a canal in Bangkok, where local boats are laden with fresh food.
Photo:©Mint Images

The challenge of reducing food loss and waste during COVID-19

This year we celebrate the first ever observance of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. It also comes during the global COVID-19 pandemic, that has brought about a global wake-up on the need to transform and rebalance the way our food is produced and consumed.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues generating significant challenges to food security in many countries. Disruptions in supply chains, quarantine measures, the closure of much of the hospitality industry and schools… All these measures have resulted in a loss of markets for producers and distributors, making the situation even more challenging while dealing with high levels of food waste.

At the downstream end of the supply chain, with panic buying and stockpiling by consumers, supermarkets, which are often key donors to food banks, struggled to keep their shelves stocked and are unable to donate food. Meanwhile, much of the food purchased by households was discarded as food waste, because of a misunderstanding of date marking and improper storage of these household food items.

We need to be aware of the importance of the issue of food loss and waste now more than ever in order to promote and implement our global efforts towards resolving it. That is why, in 2019, the 74th United Nations General Assembly designated 29 September as the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, recognizing the fundamental role that sustainable food production plays in promoting food security and nutrition. Doubtless, this new International Day faces a lot of challenges to achieve our goals of "Responsible consumption and production", which will contribute to the fight for Zero Hunger and against Climate Change.

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Download our material and spread the word

FAO has an official page for the Observance where you can let them know about your event, download the logo and other social media materials in different languages, check the guide that will help you to spread the message, or just get more information about this global problem of food waste and food loss.

Stop food loss and waste. For the people. For the planet.

Reducing food losses and waste is essential in a world where the number of people affected by hunger has been slowly on the rise since 2014, and tons and tons of edible food are lost and/or wasted every day.

When food is loss or wasted, all the resources that were used to produce this food -, including water, land, energy, labour and capital – go to waste. In addition, the disposal of food loss and waste in landfills, leads to greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change.

That is the reason why this first theme for the new Observance will be “Stop food loss and waste. For the people. For the planet.”

Actions are required globally and locally to maximize the use of the food we produce. The introduction of technologies, innovative solutions (including e-commerce platforms for marketing, retractable mobile food processing systems), new ways of working and good practices to manage food quality and reduce food loss and waste are key to implementing this transformative change.

Reducing food loss and waste requires the attention and actions of all, from food producers, to food supply chain stakeholders, to food industries, retailers and consumers.

Did you know?

  • Globally, around 14 percent of food produced is lost between harvest and retail. Significant quantities are also wasted in retail and at the consumption level.
  • In the case of fruits and vegetables, more than 20% is lost.
  • The use of surface and groundwater resources (blue water) attributable to food lost or wasted is about 250 km3, representing around 6 percent of total water withdrawals.

Reducing food loss and waste is critical to achieving a sustainable world

The map of shame

Discover the progress of prevalence of undernourishment around the world and remember it everytime you throw food in your garbage can.

Map of the prevalence of undernourishment
Garbanzos thrown in the trash

Habits can change. Here are some easy things you can do to be a Food Hero and make not wasting food a way of life.  FAO also offers new ideas to plan a sustainable next holiday by avoiding over-eating and food waste, as well as a poster to print and decorate your fridge to help your family understand our goals. 

Aereal view of women classifying dates

If you want to find out more about food loss and waste in an interactive and easy way, this is your source. This digital report provides estimates of the percentage of the world’s food lost from production up to the retail level. It also provides some guiding principles for interventions based on the objectives of food loss and waste reduction, be they in improved economic efficiency, food security and nutrition, or environmental sustainability.

Geometric illustration with the Secretariat building at UNHQ, New York.

International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.