How Arab countries can tackle food waste at every step of the supply chain

Special Impulsive shopping decisions and poor storage methods are the two biggest reasons for loss and waste in GCC countries. But there are solutions in hand. (Shutterstock)
Impulsive shopping decisions and poor storage methods are the two biggest reasons for loss and waste in GCC countries. But there are solutions in hand. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 29 August 2023
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How Arab countries can tackle food waste at every step of the supply chain

How Arab countries can tackle food waste at every step of the supply chain
  • Rising living standards and lack of awareness blamed for impulsive buying in relatively affluent GCC countries
  • Arab governments are teaming up with households, startups and the hospitality industry to combat food waste

DUBAI: Waste occurs at almost every stage of the global food supply chain, costing money and precious resources, damaging the environment, and unnecessarily adding billions of tons of climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

If food waste could be represented as its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the US, according to the UN Environment Programme.

Today, up to one-third of the food the world produces is wasted — at a time when 10 percent of the planet’s population is classified as food insecure, meaning they do not have consistent access to sufficiently nutritious food every day.

Looking at the scale of the problem in terms of calories, current global food waste is equivalent to around 400 to 500 calories per person per day in developing countries and as much as 1,500 calories per person in developed countries.

Inefficient harvesting methods and limited access to farming technology, as well as wasteful consumer habits, mean that some 1.3 billion tons of edible food are thrown away each year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Lara Hussein, co-founder of the Dubai-based startup Waste Lab, told Arab News: “When we think of wasted food, we need to talk about both food loss, which occurs across the supply chain from farmer to retailer before it reaches the end consumer, and food waste, which happens at the consumer level.”




Dubai-based startup The Waste Lab is looking to tackle food waste. (Supplied) 

Food loss is typically seen in developing countries at the production end of the supply chain, usually at farms where there is poor infrastructure and storage facilities or during transportation to larger markets.

By contrast, the issue in developed countries is found at the retail end of the supply chain, where consumers often indulge in impulsive buying or employ poor storage methods, resulting in food waste.

This is the case in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, where food amounting to 10 million tons is wasted every year.

“In general, the GCC has been experiencing rapid urbanization and population growth, which is resulting in the oversupply and overproduction of food,” Hussein said.

“The improvement of living standards and lack of awareness about the issue and impact of food waste also leads to over-purchasing and wasteful behavior at the consumer level.”

Studies have shown that consumers in rich countries waste approximately 222 million tons of food annually, which is almost equivalent to the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (estimated at 230 million tons per year).

More specifically, consumers in Europe and North America waste approximately 95 to 115 kilograms of food per year per capita. The corresponding figures for sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia are 6-11 kilograms.

GCC countries have some of the highest rates of food wastage in the world, and Waste Lab’s Hussein believes this can be attributed partly to cultural norms.

“Big feasts and large amounts of food on the table are directly associated with good hospitality and generosity,” she said.




Daniel Soloman, founder of the UAE-based grocery delivery firm HeroGo, spoke to Arab News about how affluent lifestyles in the GCC led to excessive purchasing of food. (Facebook/HeroGo)

During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, for instance, food wastage almost doubles in the UAE.

Daniel Soloman, founder of the UAE-based grocery delivery firm HeroGo, told Arab News that large disposable incomes and affluent lifestyles in the GCC and several other Middle Eastern and North African countries tend to encourage excessive purchasing of food, which in turn aggravates the problem of wastage

“Other contributing factors include overproduction, poor storage, lack of efficient distribution systems, and mismanagement of food resources,” he said.

He pointed out that the region’s harsh climate was another contributing factor. High temperatures and extended supply chains tended to increase the risk of food spoilage in import-reliant Arab countries.

Strict aesthetic standards, especially in relation to fruit and vegetables, often resulted in supermarkets rejecting items that looked ugly despite them being fit for consumption.

Soloman added that many products that did not meet “grocery specifications” were lost long before they even reached the consumer.

“Due to superficial standards, fruit and veggies have to be a specific size, and most produce is considered too small, too big, or ugly, and gets wasted, not reaching the supermarket,” he said.

Unless donated or saved through discount promotions, rejected fruit and vegetables usually ended up in landfills.

To help reduce the volume of food waste, Hussein said that supermarkets and consumers must be encouraged to accept and purchase “imperfect” produce, while retailers should offer discounts or create separate sections for imperfect produce.

INNUMBERS

* 1.3bn Tons of edible food thrown away each year worldwide.

* 10% Proportion of the world’s population classified as food insecure.

* 10m Tons of food wasted every year in the GCC countries.

* $3.5bn What food loss and waste costs the UAE per year.

* 25% Food-service sector’s contribution to total global food wastage.

Several studies examining the link between hungry shoppers and the number and type of food items purchased have repeatedly confirmed a psychological element behind certain shopping habits.

One study showed that hungry shoppers spent 60 percent more and bought more non-food items than less-hungry customers, while another survey revealed that those shopping while hungry were likely to buy more high-calorie food items.

“When we do not plan our grocery list in advance, we tend to purchase on the spot and in many cases, food items that will just stay in our fridge and cabinet to be forgotten,” Waste Lab’s Hussein said.

Similarly, misunderstanding expiry dates often led people to dispose of food when it was still safe to eat.

“If we do not know how to store our groceries properly in our home, we miss the opportunity of extending its shelf life or sometimes unfortunately accelerate their rotting,” she said.

One school of opinion believes that the problem of food waste is specific to the hospitality sector.




UAE-based HeroGo teams in action. (Facebook/HeroGo)

According to the UN Environment Programme’s 2021 Food Waste Index report, it was estimated that waste generated by the food-service sector every year amounted to 25 percent of total global food wastage.

Accordingly, any action by the sector to reduce food wastage would have a significant impact in reversing the situation.

“The hospitality sector contributes significantly to food waste due to over-preparation, buffet excess, and customer plate waste,” HeroGo’s Soloman said.

To mitigate this, businesses could implement better portion control, donate surplus food to charities, and optimize procurement processes to prevent over-ordering.

“They could also train staff on sustainable practices, including recycling, and use technologies to track and analyze food waste patterns,” he said.

Sylvia Matei, cluster hotel manager for InterContinental Hotels and Resorts, Holiday Inn, and Staybridge Al-Maktoum in Dubai, told Arab News that while the hospitality sector was probably a significant contributor to food waste, business practices were becoming more sustainable.




The GCC region is placing increased emphasis on addressing climate change through sustainable practices across the food ecosystem, according to Sylvia Matei, manager at Holiday Inn & Staybridge Suites Al-Maktoum. (Supplied)

“We have implemented stringent waste management practices across our properties … and our participation in recycling initiatives, such as converting used oil, corrugated cardboard, and plastic into revenue streams, showcases our commitment to sustainability and aligns us with global standards set by COP28,” she said, referring to the forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference, hosted by Dubai in November.

Matei said composting wet waste and donating it to farmers, and creating partnerships with suppliers to source “imperfect” produce, were other ways the hospitality sector could positively impact both the environment and the community while battling food waste.

“The GCC region, in preparation for COP28, is placing increased emphasis on addressing climate change through sustainable practices across the food ecosystem,” she said.

Partly driven by a quest for food security, several GCC countries are investing in sustainable agricultural practices, such as hydroponics, vertical farming, and aquaponics, to localize and reduce the carbon footprint of food production.

“Some countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also working to improve waste management infrastructure, including recycling and composting facilities, to divert food waste from landfills,” HeroGo’s Soloman said.

Two examples of food-waste reduction initiatives are Saudi Arabia’s Say Yes to Less campaign and the UAE’s Food Waste Pledge.

Food waste is a significant problem in the UAE, costing the country $3.5 billion annually, with around 38 percent of the food prepared inside the country wasted.

In response, the UAE launched a national food loss and waste initiative called Ne’ma, which involves government entities as well as stakeholders from different sectors to cut food loss and waste by 50 percent by 2030.

Incentivizing and supporting startups, small- and medium-sized enterprises, and larger organizations that were tackling food waste was another way GCC countries were approaching the issue, according to Waste Lab’s Hussein.

“The GCC is undertaking important and impactful measures to confront the challenges of climate change via the food ecosystem starting from their participation in international climate conferences and agreements, such as the Paris Agreement and having the UAE as the host of COP28 in 2023,” she said.

 


Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 29,313

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 29,313
Updated 21 February 2024
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Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 29,313

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 29,313
  • Ministry statement: A total of 118 people died in the past 24 hours

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Wednesday that at least 29,313 people have been killed in the Palestinian territory during the war between Hamas-led militants and Israel.
A ministry statement said a total of 118 people died in the past 24 hours, while another 69,333 have been wounded since the war erupted on October 7.


Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month

Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month
Updated 21 February 2024
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Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month

Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month
  • IAEA’s Rafael Grossi: Iran continuing to enrich uranium well beyond the needs for commercial nuclear use
  • Under a defunct 2015 agreement with world powers, Iran can enrich uranium only to 3.67 percent

DUBAI: Iran’s nuclear chief on Wednesday dismissed a suggestion that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi would visit Iran next month but instead invited Grossi to a conference in Tehran in May.
Grossi said this week Iran was continuing to enrich uranium well beyond the needs for commercial nuclear use and said he planned to visit Tehran next month to tackle “drifting apart” relations between the IAEA and the Islamic Republic.
But Mohammad Eslami said a visit next month was unlikely due to a “busy schedule” without giving further clarification. “Iran’s interactions with the IAEA continue as normal and discussions are held to resolve ambiguities and develop cooperation,” he said at a weekly press conference in Tehran.
Eslami said Grossi had been invited to attend Iran’s first international nuclear energy conference in May.
Speaking to Reuters on Monday, Grossi said while the pace of uranium enrichment had slowed slightly since the end of last year, Iran was still enriching at an elevated rate of around 7kg of uranium per month to 60 percent purity.
Enrichment to 60 percent brings uranium close to weapons grade, and is not necessary for commercial use in nuclear power production. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons but no other state has enriched to that level without producing them.
Under a defunct 2015 agreement with world powers, Iran can enrich uranium only to 3.67 percent. After then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out of that deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, Iran breached and moved well beyond the deal’s nuclear restrictions.
The UN nuclear watchdog said the 2015 nuclear deal “is all but disintegrated.”


Day 3 of ICJ hearings: US says Israel should not be legally obligated to withdraw from the Occupied Territories immediately

Day 3 of ICJ hearings: US says Israel should not be legally obligated to withdraw from the Occupied Territories immediately
Updated 28 sec ago
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Day 3 of ICJ hearings: US says Israel should not be legally obligated to withdraw from the Occupied Territories immediately

Day 3 of ICJ hearings: US says Israel should not be legally obligated to withdraw from the Occupied Territories immediately
  • More than 50 states will present arguments until February 26
  • Current hearings could increase political pressure over Israel’s war in Gaza

THE HAGUE: Egypt wants the establishment of a viable Palestinian state on the pre-1967 borders, said Egypt’s legal counselor Jasmine Moussa at the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICJ) on Wednesday.

In the third day of hearings at the ICJ, also known as the World Court, in the Hague, Moussa said Israel’s ongoing ‘onslaught’ on Gaza killed over 29,000 Palestinians and displaced 2.3 million people in violation of international law.
 
“It is shocking that some states do not want the court to render its legal opinion. What message does this send on their respect for international justice and the rule of law?” asked  Moussa.

Egypt’s Jasmine Moussa said the Middle East “yearns for peace and stability” and a “comprehensive and lasting resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”.

Legal Advisor of the Cabinet of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jasmine Moussa attends ICJ public hearing to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories. (Reuters)

UAE representative Lana Nusseibeh said the viability of peace and an independent Palestinian state are imperiled by Israel’s violations which have risen sharply recently.

The UAE is confident that the court will determine the legal consequences of Israel's violations of international law against the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank.

“According to the United Nations, 2023 has been the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank,” said Nusseibeh.

Nuseibeh said Israel must cease all policies and practices that impede the exercise of Palestinian right to self determination.

Israel must ensure freedom of access to holy places and respect the legal and historic status quo of these areas, added Nusseibeh.

The UAE concluded their statement by calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and criticized the UN’s Security Council’s failure to adopt a peace resolution.

The United States and Russia will also present arguments on Wednesday in proceedings at the UN’s highest court examining the legality of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The ICJ, also known as the World Court, was asked in 2022 by the UN General Assembly to issue a non-binding opinion on the legal consequences of the occupation.
Israel, which is not taking part, said in written comments that the court’s involvement could be harmful to achieving a negotiated settlement. Washington in 2022 opposed the court issuing an opinion and is expected to argue on Wednesday that it cannot rule on the occupation’s lawfulness.
More than 50 states will present arguments until Feb. 26. Egypt and France were also scheduled to speak on Wednesday.
On Monday, Palestinian representatives asked the judges to declare Israel’s occupation of their territory illegal and said its opinion could help reach a two-state solution.
On Tuesday, 10 states including South Africa were overwhelmingly critically of Israel’s conduct in the occupied territories, with many urging the court to declare the occupation illegal.
The latest surge of violence in Gaza that followed Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks in Israel has complicated already deeply-rooted grievances in the Middle East and damaged efforts toward finding a path to peace.
The ICJ’s 15-judge panel has been asked to review Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation ... including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures.”
The judges are expected to take roughly six months to issue their opinion on the request, which also asks them to consider the legal status of the occupation and its consequences for states.
Israel ignored a World Court opinion in 2004 when it found that Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank violated international law and should be dismantled. Instead, it has been extended.
The current hearings could increase political pressure over Israel’s war in Gaza, which has killed about 29,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — areas of historic Palestine which the Palestinians want for a state — in the 1967 conflict. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but, along with neighboring Egypt, still controls its borders.
Israeli leaders have long disputed that the territories are formally occupied on the basis that they were captured from Jordan and Egypt during the 1967 war rather than from a sovereign Palestine.


GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution

GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution
Updated 21 February 2024
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GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution

GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution
  • US vetoed the Algeria proposal seeking immediate ceasefire
  • Need to ‘spare the blood’ of Palestinians, says GCC spokeswoman

DUBAI: The GCC has expressed its “regret” over the failure of the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution seeking a ceasefire in Gaza.

Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani, the GCC’s spokeswoman and Qatar’s permanent envoy at the UN, said the resolution was aimed at ending the war on Gaza, ensure the protection of Palestinians, and was consistent with international humanitarian law.

The resolution was proposed by Algeria and supported by Arab nations and most members of the council, said Al-Thani on Tuesday.

“We regret the failure of the security council to adopt the resolution submitted by Algeria,” she said.

“Our countries will continue their efforts along with partners to ensure reaching a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, in order to spare the blood of our Palestinian brothers and to ensure the arrival of more humanitarian and relief aid to the Strip and to protect civilians,” Al-Thani said.

The draft resolution condemned the forced displacement of Palestinian civilians, urged all parties to comply with their obligations under international law, and called for the release all hostages.

The US vetoed the resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and proposed its own draft urging a temporary ceasefire.

Washington said the Algeria-proposed resolution would “jeopardize” talks to end the war.


Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2

Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2
Updated 21 February 2024
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Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2

Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2
  • Strike hit a building near an Iranian school and caused casualties: Pro-government Sham FM radio
  • Israel had no comment

DAMASCUS: Israeli strikes hit a neighborhood of the Syrian capital on Wednesday morning, killing two people and causing material damage, Syria’s state TV said. There was no confirmation of the strikes from Israel.
The Syrian state TV reported that several missiles hit the western neighborhood of Kfar Sousseh but did not elaborate or say who were the people killed. The pro-government Sham FM radio station said the strike hit a building near an Iranian school.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition war monitor, said the two killed were inside an apartment but did not give any clues about their identities.
He added that the strike was similar to last month’s killing in Beirut of Saleh Arouri, a top official with the militant Palestinian Hamas group.
The strike damaged the fourth floor of a 10-story building, shattered window glass on nearby buildings and also damaged dozens of cars parked in the area. An empty parked bus for the nearby Al-Bawader Private School was also damaged and people were seen rushing to the school to take their children.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled parts of war-torn Syria in recent years.
Israel rarely acknowledges its actions in Syria, but it has said that it targets bases of Iran-allied militant groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Last month, an Israeli strike on the Syrian capital’s western neighborhood of Mazzeh destroyed a building used by the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, killing at least five Iranians.
In December, an Israeli airstrike on a suburb of Damascus killed Iranian general Seyed Razi Mousavi, a longtime adviser of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in Syria. Israel has also targeted Palestinian and Lebanese operatives in Syria over the past years.