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Drought and heat waves are decimating crops around the world in countries like Afghanistan and South Sudan, driving rising hunger crises. The problem of hunger may only get worse as the global population reaches almost 10 billion people by 2050, making it more difficult to sustain the planet’s resources, according to the World Economic Forum.
But for now, the problem isn’t that there’s not enough food on the planet. The problem is how much food is wasted.
Every year, about 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted globally, which is an estimated third of all food produced. That amount per year is enough to feed 2 million people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.
To address the growing problem of food waste management, all 193 U.N. member states signed a consensus in August 2015 that listed 17 goals including responsible consumption and production. The U.N. agreed on the need to “[educate] consumers on sustainable consumption and lifestyles, providing them with the adequate information through standards and labels and engaging in sustainable public procurement, among others.”
The U.N. hopes to cut global food loss in half by 2030. But, as the consequences of climate change accelerate, social entrepreneurs across the world are taking it upon themselves to tackle the food waste issue head on.
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Twenty billion pounds of farmed produce goes to waste on American farms every year.
Grocery stores in the U.S. reject produce for a variety of reasons, deeming fruits and vegetables too “ugly” for wholesale. These reasons are often cosmetic, such as bruises, minor insect damage to skins and scarred veggies. These “ugly” foods are otherwise tossed out.
Imperfect Produce founders Ben Simon and Ben Chesler combined their small college campus nonprofits in 2015 to deliver “ugly” produce to doorsteps across the country. Every week, customers can choose a box of assorted produce and the amount they want.
They’re not the only startup to seize on the idea. Misfits Market, among several others, also offers subscription boxes of produce culled directly from farmers at a fraction of the retail price.
While consumers can see this as an easy way to personally address a global problem — while also solving the problem of what to eat for dinner — The Atlantic has reported that some critics and food advocates see these businesses as questionably beneficial, and can impact community organizations like food banks that depend on donations of unsellable produce.
Nigeria has the third-highest rate of child malnutrition, which Action Against Hunger attributes to the nation’s lack of safe water infrastructure, heightened food insecurity and poor health education. This stands in contrast to the fact that it is Africa’s wealthiest country with the fastest growing economy.
Inspired by his own experience with childhood hunger, Oscar Ekponimo started a mobile app called Chowberry, which connects Nigerians to supermarket food that would otherwise be thrown out for a variety of reasons.
Ekponimo also sells unwanted market items to NGOs at a discounted price, so that food is distributed to rural communities served by international organizations.
Sinba, a name combined from the words “sin basura,” biochemically recovers nutrients from restaurant waste and transforms it into animal feed sold to urban pig farmers in Lima, Peru. The company also trains staff at food businesses on managing organic material.
The company was formed in 2015 to address the growing issue of restaurants throwing out perfectly sanitary surplus food. Only 4 percent of organic material in Lima food businesses recycle their organic material, which leaves up to half a ton of waste per day.
A Tunisian woman named Khadija founded Namnamfood in 2016 with the goal of cooking delicious, vegetarian meals, while educating her customers on food waste management and sustainable cuisine. She’s relied namely on Instagram to share her “how to” recipes.
Khadija models home cooking with an environmental activist’s approach, urging her social media followers to eat less animal-based food products, more plants, and foods alive with good bacteria and vitamins. Namnamfood products, which are sold at local partner locations in Tunis, are made from local farming to avoid food waste that often comes up through the production and supply chains.
Consumers in Europe and North America waste around 200 pounds of food per year, compared to the less than 25 pounds wasted in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia combined, according to the World Economic Forum.
A company founded in Denmark, Too Good To Go, crosses borders to approach managing food waste in the developed world. Like other companies on this list, Too Good To Go sells restaurant and food business surplus to consumers across 12 European countries. Users can log in to their mobile app to locate participating food vendors.
Bryan Wood is a News Assistant at the PBS NewsHour.
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