Kenya: Exposing food waste in UK supermarket supply chains
Worrying about trimming beans might sound like we’re splitting hairs, but trimmed green beans turned out to be a perfect Feedback flashpoint: an issue that, serious in itself, also serves as leverage for addressing much wider problems in the food supply chain.
Our investigation in 2013 looked at the experience of farmers in Kenya supplying UK supermarkets. We found that in Kenya on average 50% of produce is rejected even on the grounds of appearance even before it leaves the country. The farmers we spoke to faced a dilemma we’ve heard time and again: challenge supermarket practices which are causing waste and risk losing business; stay quiet and risk financial margins as well as the generation of hidden mountains of waste.
In one particularly egregious example of the ways supermarket practices cause waste, we found that the policy of trimming both ends of green beans, a Kenyan staple crop, meant imported beans had to adhere to particularly strict length requirements in order to fit trimming machines.
Our campaign ‘Stop Dumping’, yielding over a million signatures on a petition in partnership with Avaaz, gave us the leverage we needed to engage with Tesco, encouraging them not only to lead the retail market by publishing a full breakdown of their food waste, but also to stop trimming both ends of their green beans, a practice which meant imported beans had to adhere to strict length requirements to fit the machines used for trimming. For one supplier we talked to in Kenya, this reduced food waste by 30% overnight.
Our work raising awareness of food waste on Kenyan farms led to the World Food Programme consulting with us to develop a food redistribution system in Nairobi, which sends surplus fruit and vegetables to children around the city. Working with Enviu, an environmental organisation, the initiative aims to turn some 5 tonnes of “imperfect” produce into 78,000 school meals a day.
Meanwhile, our research on the way supermarket practices result in irresponsible levels of waste allowed us to provide solid evidence to support the establishment of the UK’s ombudsman for the groceries market – the Groceries Code Adjudicator. We continue to advocate for the Adjudicator’s powers to be expanded to cover overseas suppliers, who are particularly vulnerable to supermarket malpractice.