Surplus fruit and vegetables used in Kenya to feed thousands

In 2014 Feedback investigated Kenyan export supply chains and found that vast quantities of fruit and vegetables were being wasted due to strict cosmetic standards enforced by European retailers and unfair trading practices such as last minute order cancellations. On average 45% of fresh produce is rejected, and without sufficient demand in the local market the vast majority of this food is either dumped or fed to livestock. Farmers aren’t paid for what isn’t exported so wasted food not only means wasted resources, but also reduced income for rural communitites.

Working eith local partners we held the first African Disco Soup, bringing together people and surplus food to communally cook and celebrate the delicious solutions to food waste. Representatives from the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) joined us. We proposed the need for an effective redistribution system in Kenya alongside efforts to reduce waste through changes to business practices. Our report, Food Waste in Kenya, concluded that “in a country where millions of people are without adequate food and nutrition, infrastructure should be put in place to ensure surplus food is redistributed to those who need it”.

Following on from our work, a new project led by the WFP is using surplus fruit and vegetables to provide thousands of meals to school children daily. Its initial pilot scheme is currently feeding 2,200 school children one hot meal a day. Upon completion of the pilot the WFP plans to feed over 80,000 children per day. This program is expected to save over 1000 tonnes of food every year by paying exporters a small price for food that they would otherwise throw away.

How does the program work?

WFP collect surplus food from export centres, prepares meals in offsite catering facilities and deliver it to schools. They hope to eventually prepare food within school facilities. There is also talk of bringing in other actors to re-purpose some of this food into value added products. The WFP’s initiative will hopefully inspire similar projects to be developed in places where there is sadly both a surplus of produce to be eaten and millions of people unable to access regular quantities of nutritious food.

Redistribution alone won’t solve the food waste problem

Redistribution of surplus food is essential as it not only ensures food waste is avoided, but also provides people with good nutrition where they may not otherwise be able to access fresh produce. However, food waste is symptomatic of greater systemic imbalances in the supply chain and we cannot ignore the fact that farmers suffer when food cannot be sold despite being perfectly good to eat. Alongside redistribution efforts, the reduction and prevention of waste must be prioritised to ensure that farmers can afford to invest in their businesses and contribute to rural development. Businesses must take responsibility for the waste they cause in their supply chains. Supermarkets, large food brands and manufacturers all wield disproportionate power in the global food economy. The use of strict cosmetic specifications, unfair trading practices, and vague forecasting patterns all transfer excessive risk and uncertainty to suppliers and encourage overproduction leading to waste. Whilst these actors maintain this level of power they must equally act with great responsibility for the wellbeing of their suppliers, consumers, and the natural resources we all rely upon.

gpwdjjmv_400x400 Author: Edd Colbert