A typical Filipino household throws away 43 grams of rice daily, according to a 2015 survey conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology. There are nearly 23 million Filipino households, which means that total rice wasted could be around one million kilograms daily or about 1,000 metric tons. According to the BusinessMirror’s estimates, the volume of rice wasted by households every year is enough to significantly reduce the country’s rice imports.
Results of the FNRI survey also indicated that Filipinos waste other food items such as fish, meat, poultry and vegetables (See, “Food waste, postharvest losses where millions remain hungry,” in the BusinessMirror, October 18, 2018). Households throw away some six grams of fish and fish products, one gram of meat and meat products, and one gram of poultry. Consumers also wasted some five grams per plate of vegetables, including the green, leafy and yellow vegetables.
Food waste does not only occur in Philippine households. Our farmers also incur postharvest losses, which the Food and Agriculture Organization has defined as measurable losses in edible food mass or nutritional value of food intended for human consumption. The International Food Policy Research Institute noted that large quantities of food are wasted or lost at each of the stages of the post-harvest system every year. Citing a FAO-commissioned study, IFPRI said in a paper published in 2018 that around 1.3 billion tons of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally each year.
Reducing the amount of food thrown away by households and the produce lost after harvest will not happen overnight, but it is an effort worth pursuing. It would do well for the Marcos administration to look into this problem. A solution to our food wastage can help boost the country’s food security. Beefing up the country’s food supply is not only about increasing production; it also entails collective efforts to minimize postharvest losses. Authorities can also launch a strategic campaign to encourage households to stop throwing away food.
The International Rice Research Institute has warned policymakers more than a decade ago that the volume of rice being wasted by the country is worth more than $200 million. Data from other government agencies have also shown that the Philippines could significantly reduce food imports by addressing the food waste problem. Despite the warnings made by various institutions, no campaign was launched to address the problem. Thus, the Philippines continued to import rice, as local production could not keep pace with increasing demand.
The spike in the prices of various commodities, including fertilizer, should prompt policymakers to seriously consider putting money in schemes that would help the country beef up its food supply. Investing in postharvest facilities and enabling farmers to have access to these facilities are some of the practical solutions. Unfortunately, farmers in many rural areas still lack these vital cogs in the postharvest system. As climate shocks and other threats compound the difficulty of increasing farm output, the ideal scenario we hope to see is for government to work with the private sector to implement the necessary interventions that can help stop food waste in the country.