A micro level perspective of food loss and waste

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Left-over food stored that has been placed in the fridge. If this goes bad without being consumed, it still counts as food waste.

Joseph Persevearance Musara is a senior research fellow at the Highlands Centre of Leadership for Development (HLC-L4D) in Rwanda. He is a participant of the 2024 food systems e-course. His blog is on food loss and waste with a focus on his experiences in Rwanda, including his recent work and social experiences on the subject, as well as his opinions on the way forward.

At work or elsewhere, I frequently engage in discussions about food loss and waste. These conversations often arise when someone leaves food on the plate, prompting a colleague to exclaim "food loss and waste!", and leading to a dialogue on the implications of such actions. Did you know that this remark is only 50% correct? Food losses happen during production and processing, while food waste happens in the fridge, kitchen and at the table of consumers.

These discussions on food loss and waste shed light on various issues within the food system, including the 20.6% of the population in Rwanda who are food insecure, the 12% of GDP lost, and the significant environmental impact. Let me also lay the numbers bare at global level: 17% of total global food production (approximately 931 million tonnes), available to consumers is wasted – 11% in households.

The question remains, what can we do as a policy think tank to coordinate a movement that pushes the food loss and waste management agenda not only in Rwanda, East Africa but the entire African continent, at least for a start? During the food systems e-course, I pulled strings together and realised that we can be game changers by firstly advocating for preparing the right amount of food for each meal. Additionally, this could be complemented by simply installing food waste bags at our office premises to influence separation of food waste at the source.

Both initiatives do not take much effort, but still, how can we then scale them to the entire compound where our offices are located? This takes yet another level of engagement with our partners to follow our footsteps, and hopefully, this small action will be scaled to the entire district – gradually, of course, but certainly. More interestingly, linking with waste management companies which collect the saved food on a weekly basis can be an eye opener for many institutions to implement similar approaches.

During my recent involvement in a food loss and waste measurement study in Rwanda, I found it captivating to discover previously undocumented food loss hotspots at the farm level. Nevertheless, the intricate nature of food loss and waste places a burden on development actors to comprehend and measure it across diverse agricultural value chains.

Building on these life experiences and wide reading on food loss and waste, I was highly motivated to enrol for the e-course to get a deeper understanding of how food systems – analysis, governance and the global landscape – can be transformed. On this topic, it is not only an approach to reduce food loss and waste but also to enhance opportunities for employment, mainly targeting youth and women. I had an amazing experience while executing several tasks of the e-course and also getting feedback from other participants, some of whom came from entirely different food systems levels of transformation – either ahead, or slightly behind.

As Rwanda accelerates its food systems transformation processes, I am confident that focusing on developing context-specific capacity, particularly in strategic value chains, can effectively minimise food losses. Additionally, addressing changes in consumer behaviour offers an immediate solution to combat food waste. Then there comes the circular economy – let me leave this for my next blog.


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Joseph Musara

e-course participant

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