According to the FAO, a third of the food currently produced never reaches our plates. This equates to 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste, a £470 billion economic loss and 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions globally every year. This is especially sobering when we will need an estimated 50% more food by 2030 to feed a booming world population with evolving diets.

Nowhere is the interconnectedness of food waste and food security more acute than in developing countries where poor diets, hunger, inadequate infrastructure and food mountains co-exist.

In these markets, where many of the supply chains for the world’s dietary staples such as rice and wheat begin, more than 40% of food is lost in the pre-consumption stage during harvest, drying, storage and transport. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, up to 150 kilogrammes of food produced is lost per person every year, according to FAO research. Therefore, although some element of waste is inevitable, reducing its scale will have a significant impact on the future of global food security and the sustainability of agricultural development. Olam focuses on a number of areas:

In alignment with the World Resources Institute’s Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard, Olam measures crops and product losses in its directly managed farms, processing and logistics operations and in third-party supply chains where we can have an influence.

Standardising our measurement approach helps us establish baselines at the business unit level and identify business operations where losses are occurring the most and contributing to economic loss for all actors. When increases in the availability of raw materials is discussed, the emphasis is too often placed on increasing yields and reducing post-harvest losses and ultimately resource inefficiencies are not always seen as part of the same narrative. Post-harvest losses carry their environmental weight in terms of land use, water consumption and GHG’s emissions. Targeting crop and product losses can be a way to bring more product volumes to market without increasing the area of land cultivated or adding additional inputs.

Operating on a Zero Waste Policy, Olam Palm Gabon, for example, is monitoring crop and oil losses, during its harvest and processing stages. The crop recovery from the plantation fields is over 99% whilst oil losses incurred during the processing stages are around 1.5% (just under the world’s best palm industry practice of 1.63%).  Olam has achieved this through a range of operating procedures, including on-field training for plantation harvesters to ensure minimum ripeness standards are continuously applied; valorisation of by-products such as empty fruit bunches and palm kernel shell as fertiliser or to generate energy; and a mobile app Olam is developing to capture near real-time and on-the-ground data on harvested, evacuated and uncollected bunches, with a geotagging functionality to reduce crop loss even more.

Agricultural activities generate large amounts of biomass residues. Olam is seeking to increase the share of energy derived from renewable and biomass sources such as cocoa shell, palm kernel and rice husks in its processing facilities.

Olam also aims for higher valorisation of agricultural by-products.  For example, in Cameroon, small-scale coffee producers have been trained to use waste coffee pulp to grow mushrooms, not just as a crop to sell but as an important source of additional protein for these low income communities. At our tomato processing plant in California we partner with General Mills to use tomato skins and seeds as the main source of nitrogen to produce yield-boosting, organic compost for tomato growers, generating additional revenue by adding value to agricultural waste.

Across our directly managed farms, processing and logistics operations, Olam follows waste management procedures in accordance with regulations and actively encourages the reduction of waste from all aspects of the site operation. We follow a waste hierarchy in that waste is recovered and reused whenever possible, with residual wastes being treated and destroyed in an environmentally sound manner.

Olam is co-lead of crucial sector alliances such as Champions 12.3, the Global Agri-business Alliance (GAA) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) most notably their Climate Smart Agriculture, Food Reform for Sustainability and Health (FReSH) programmes. Our collective aim is to deliver our shared ambition to transform food systems and collectively halve food loss by 2030.

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