A Kuwaiti NGO fights food waste while feeding needy households

A Kuwaiti NGO fights food waste while feeding needy households
In 2014, when Maryam Aleisa returned from completing her studies in Barcelona, raring to start a social venture on her own, Kuwait’s food-waste problem grabbed her attention. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 14 November 2020

A Kuwaiti NGO fights food waste while feeding needy households

A Kuwaiti NGO fights food waste while feeding needy households
  • Maryam Aleisa launched Refood after the Gulf country’s food-waste problem grabbed her attention
  • Products nearing their expiry date are donated by supermarkets and redistributed among poor families

KUWAIT: Even to the most undiscerning of minds, Kuwait’s culture of hyper-consumption and food waste is obvious — almost the norm in fact. Restaurant tables with food left barely touched and garbage bins piled high with unopened packaging are seen all too often.

While the problem of waste disposal has long been an issue in Kuwait, the fact that almost 50 percent of this waste is solid food is especially harmful for the environment.

In 2014, when Maryam Aleisa returned from completing her studies in Barcelona, raring to start a social venture on her own, Kuwait’s food-waste problem grabbed her attention.

“We do not have a practice of segregating or composting food waste — it is simply dumped into massive landfills, releasing methane gases into the environment, which is significantly more dangerous than carbon dioxide emissions for climate change,” she said.




Maryam Aleisa returned from completing her studies in Barcelona in 2014 and decided to tackle Kuwait’s problem of food-waste. (Supplied) 

“The leachate, liquid caused by food waste and other factors in landfills, is equally dangerous as it seeps into the groundwater and causes contamination and pollution. I realized that the whole food-wastage problem was so unbelievable and unnecessary.”

Meanwhile, underprivileged families struggle to afford basic necessities.

Having been raised in a home environment where her mother would often donate food to the needy, Aleisa decided to put her experience to good use. And so, Refood was born.

REFOODINNUMBERS

* 2014 Launch year of Kuwaiti social enterprise.

* $4.2 million Value of food saved from being thrown away.

Launched in 2014, the non-profit aims to eliminate food waste through a process of re-channelling to help achieve a sustainable ecosystem. This means obtaining food products nearing their expiration date from suppliers and distributing it to those in need.

“To begin with, I looked at different food bank models to understand how they worked. We looked at the North African models, the ones operating in South Korea and we actually visited the Saudi Food Bank where we saw how cooked food waste was salvaged,” Aleisa said.

Although massive amounts of food waste is generated by hotels, limited resources and logistical issues meant Aleisa instead turned to the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry, which supplies food to retail outlets.

“I started speaking to these companies and realized that food products which were taken off the shelves before their expiration dates were simply thrown away,” she said. The companies, in turn, were eager to support the concept of re-channelling the food instead of throwing it away and began supplying a small number of dry food products.




Launched in 2014, the non-profit aims to eliminate food waste through a process of re-channelling to help achieve a sustainable ecosystem. (Supplied)

As the scheme grew, they soon offered their full range. “Once we gained the trust of some of the larger food companies, the others joined in and we signed contracts with them to salvage the food before it gets categorized as waste and supply it to Refood instead,” Aleisa said.

Another key challenge was finding a location for storage and distribution — a problem solved when friends pitched in and permission was obtained to work from the warehouse of a government supermarket.

Initially, Aleisa, her mother and a few friends personally delivered the food donations to families in need. But thanks to their website and social media accounts, volunteers have poured in and the team has set up a registration system for helpers and beneficiaries.

In 2019, some 2,080 families were registered with Refood, more than 498 tons of food redistributed and 1,000 packages distributed every month. This meant that more than 1,292,640 KWD ($4.2 million) worth of food was saved from being dumped into landfills.

COVID-19 has forced Refood to change its program, owing to a shortage of sponsors and many of its beneficiaries leaving the country. But Aleisa is confident the team will continue, as food waste remains a huge problem in Kuwait. And what is her ideal scenario? “To live in a world where Refood wouldn’t need to exist,” she said.

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This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


UAE, Cyprus FMs discuss Mediterranean tensions and strategic partnerships

UAE, Cyprus FMs discuss Mediterranean tensions and strategic partnerships
Updated 19 January 2021

UAE, Cyprus FMs discuss Mediterranean tensions and strategic partnerships

UAE, Cyprus FMs discuss Mediterranean tensions and strategic partnerships
  • The two ministers also discussed the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Both sides discussed ways of strengthening ties in multiple sectors, including in parliamentary areasboth sides discussed ways of strengthening ties in multiple sectors, including in parliamentary areas

DUBAI: The UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs discussed the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and ways of ensuring security and stability in the region with his Cypriot counterpart on Monday,.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan reviewed the prospects of advancing relations with Cyprus in a meeting in Abu Dhabi with Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, UAE state news agency WAM reported.
The two ministers also discussed the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of enhancing international cooperation to ensure fair and equitable access to the vaccine for every country in the world.
Christodoulides praised the UAE’s significant overall efforts to counter the coronavirus pandemic and the efficiency of its adopted measures in mitigating the economic and social effects of the crisis.
During his visit to the UAE, the Cypriot minister also met with the Speaker of the Federal National Council (FNC), Saqr Ghobash, accompanied with the Ambassador of Cyprus to the UAE, Yannis Michaelides.
During the meeting, both sides discussed ways of strengthening ties in multiple sectors, including in parliamentary areas.
Ghobash said that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on their parliamentary cooperation is required, in addition to reinforcing the role of joint parliamentary friendship committees.
A parliamentary friendship committee between the two countries will hold a meeting in the first quarter of 2021, Ghobash said, and stressed the importance of improving their coordination during global parliamentary events.
Christodoulides said that the UAE was a leading regional and international stature, noting that it is a strategic partner of his country.
He also conveyed the invitation of the President of the House of Representatives of Cyprus to Ghobash to visit Cyprus as head of a parliamentary delegation, to discuss ways of reinforcing their parliamentary ties.