DUBAI // A third of all food being produced woldwide may be going to waste despite growing fears of a food crisis, according to experts.
Thirty per cent of food may be lost or wasted before and after it reaches the consumer, according to a recent British government report. Other estimates put the figure at fifty per cent.
"It's not about increasing production, but about improving efficiency," Paul McMahon, the managing partner of the UK investment company SLM Partners, told the Agribusiness Outlook Forum, which ran alongside the AgraME agricultural trade show in Dubai this week.
A fall in agriculture production, along with a growing, richer population in countries such as India, is likely to worsen the global food crisis. Around the world, billions are hungry and malnourished while more than a billion others suffer health problems because of obesity.
The problem is likely to worsen as the population grows and farmland succumbs to climate change and environmental degradation.
While these problems can be addressed, it would be more efficient simply to waste less, according to Dr McMahon. Both approaches will be necessary to feed the projected world population of nine billion by 2050. "It's a crazy food system at the moment, which is starting to show the strain," he said.
Global agriculture currently produces 4,600 calories per person per day, enough food to feed the world population, but much of that is being lost along the supply chain.
Around a fifth of the world's farmland is currently used to grow crops for biofuels rather than food. Meanwhile, food prices are at a record high.
Despite adequate crop production, food is not always distributed to where it is needed, said Sudhakar Tomar, the managing director of Hakan Agro, a food trading company in Dubai.
"It makes you ask if it's really a food crisis or simply a supply and demand mismatch," he said.
The UK report outlines clear steps for developed countries to reduce waste - all of which could be applied in the UAE.
The report calls for publicity campaigns to persuade consumers, restaurants and suppliers to waste less.
It also suggests that technology that can tell when food is spoiled could be more efficient than relying on 'best before' dates. Food no longer fit for human consumption could be used as animal feed, while other, edible surpluses could be recycled to the needy.
Mr Tomar said that small changes in developed world's eating habits could make a huge difference.
As developing countries get richer, their demand for meat is likely to grow considerably.
But Mr Tomar estimated that if people in the developed world ate 10 per cent less meat, enough farmland would be freed up to grow an extra 500 million tonnes of lentils and pulses every year.
With better agricultural practices, food security could be achieved within a lifetime, he said.
"Improving yields in third world countries, stopping wastage from market to dining table in the first world and with a little restraint on our meat consumption and we won't have to wait until 2050."