How the food waste problem in Africa can be reduced by technology
How much food is being wasted?
The world population is estimated to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 according to global estimates meaning that we will need the equivalent of three planets to sustain the world population by 2050 with the current lifestyle patterns. Increasing food production to ensure food security will put additional pressure on already constrained natural resources, yet only a third and half of all food produced never reached the point of human consumption. Ethically this is unacceptable to waste food that could be used to feed people.
South Africa takes the largest portion of food wastage in Africa yet 24,5% of the national population goes to bed hungry every single day. Food waste has a triple negative effect:
- The waste of resources (including water and energy) used along the supply chain in the production, handling and distribution of food that is not consumed by humans,
- The socio-economic impacts associated with food insecurity and
- Environmental impacts associated with waste and emissions (including greenhouse gas emissions) generated during the production, harvesting, processing, distribution and disposal of food that is not consumed.
Furthermore, all households contribute to food waste irrespective of income level. There is a direct relationship between household food waste generation, household income and the number of people residing in a household. Food waste decreases when there are more occupants, yet increases with household income level.
Households in developed countries like Europe, America & UK tend to generate more waste than those in developing countries such as Africa meaning that food waste occurs in every step of the food value chain. In developed countries, over 28% (24 million tons) of waste comes from food services, primary production and wholesale and retail. Commercial food service, which include restaurants, fast food chains, cafés, cafeterias, canteens, and dining halls, as well as event catering, are third in the food value chain in terms of the amount of food waste produced, even though it has significant potential for waste prevention.
How technology prevents food waste?
Technological platforms can play a significant role in reducing food wastage in supply chains, both directly and indirectly. In most businesses supply chain complexity and perishability of the raw material and products can serve as useful indicators to identify the relevance of technology.
These specific technology platform can improve the efficiencies in food supply chains:
- Enterprise Resource Planning: This software helps integrate components of a company, these include supply chain through sharing and organizing information among participants at different levels.
- Supply Chain Event Management: This refers to methods that process supply chain events. Meaning, it is a process of monitoring the planned sequence of activities systems along a supply chain and reporting any errors with the help of a computerized monitoring device.
- Radio Frequency Identification systems: These are small electronic tags that track the position and movement of items.
- Electronic Data Interchange: This is an exchange of documents from computer-to-computer for order processing, transactions, accounting, production and distribution.
- Programmable Logic Controller: Here we are talking about a control system that monitors parameters of input devices and generates decisions-based output parameters.
- Cloud computing: An internet-based system that accesses a shared pool of computing resources.
- Machine-to-machine: Wireless or wired technology that is designed to capture data from a remote location using sensors and connects to the back-end enterprise systems via WLAN, satellite or cellular communication.
All these effects of technological platforms help in reducing food wastage in supply chains by enhancing operational visibility and process control. There are indirect effects by which technological platforms can help reduce food wastage. Like, the combinations of technologies such as ERP and barcode readers to enable the development of methods like “ready-make-discard''.
Using these types of combinations, retailers can identify and sell the earliest manufactured product unit. The scope of technological platforms in reducing food loss goes beyond the improvement of parameters like visibility, precision and efficiency. These are crucial for supply chains where the products are highly perishable and can be a key sustainability differentiators for retailers that make it or those that do not.
Moreover, these platforms enable new practices in the supply chain to reduce food waste and identify areas of high food wastage. Demand forecasting can be improved by connecting food manufacturers to retail stores or restaurants. Technology can significantly reduce the food wastage in their supply chain through automation of certain processes. Although these processes may still require manual monitoring, they can reduce food wastage.
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