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.

 


Syrian man dies of wounds from anti-Assad protest

Updated 12 sec ago
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Syrian man dies of wounds from anti-Assad protest

Syrian man dies of wounds from anti-Assad protest
DAMASCUS: A Syrian man died of gunshot wounds sustained in a protest against President Bashar Assad in the southern flashpoint province of Sweida on Wednesday, a medical source and two local monitors said.
It was the first fatality reported that was linked to the demonstrations about economic conditions that swept across Druze-majority Sweida last year and quickly spiralled into rallies against Assad.
Suwayda 24, a local news website, reported that a 52-year-old man succumbed to gunshot wounds after security forces guarding a government building shot at nearby protesters.
A local medical source and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the 13-year war, confirmed the fatality.
Suwayda 24 said the spiritual head of the Druze sect Sheikh Hikmat Al-Hijri met with protesters on Wednesday and said the man was a “martyr.”
Last August, steep gasoline prices sparked mass protests across Sweida, a province that had largely been spared the violence that has ravaged the rest of Syria since 2011, when Assad’s crackdown on demonstrations against him sparked a full-blown war.
The demonstrators swiftly turned their criticism to Assad and demanded sweeping political changes. Across the province, scores of local branches of the ruling Baath party were forced shut by protesters tearing down posters of the president and his father, a rare show of defiance in areas under government rule.

Hamas says it launched two missile salvos from southern Lebanon into northern Israel

Hamas says it launched two missile salvos from southern Lebanon into northern Israel
Updated 28 February 2024
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Hamas says it launched two missile salvos from southern Lebanon into northern Israel

Hamas says it launched two missile salvos from southern Lebanon into northern Israel
  • Headquarters of the 769th Eastern Brigade and the airport barracks in Beit Hilal attacked

DUBAI: The armed wing of Palestinian militant group Hamas on Wednesday said it launched two missile salvos consisting of 40 Grad missiles from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
Al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement on its Telegram channel it had bombed the headquarters of the 769th Eastern Brigade and the airport barracks in Beit Hilal.


Rocket fire reported off Yemen in Red Sea in a new suspected attack by Houthi rebels

A ship is docked at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen. (REUTERS file photo)
A ship is docked at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 28 February 2024
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Rocket fire reported off Yemen in Red Sea in a new suspected attack by Houthi rebels

A ship is docked at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen. (REUTERS file photo)
  • The attack comes as the Houthis continue a series of assaults at sea over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and as the US and its allies launch airstrikes trying to stop them

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A rocket exploded late Tuesday night off the side of a ship traveling through the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, authorities said, the latest suspected attack to be carried out by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
The attack comes as the Houthis continue a series of assaults at sea over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and as the US and its allies launch airstrikes trying to stop them.
The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center, which oversees shipping in the Mideast, reported the attack happened about 110 kilometers (70 miles) off the coast of the Houthi-held port city of Hodeida. The rocket exploded several miles off the bow of the vessel, it said.
“The crew and vessel are reported to be safe and are proceeding to next port of call,” the UKMTO said.
The private security firm Ambrey reported that the vessel targeted appeared to be a Marshall Islands-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier in the area at the time. Another ship, a Panama-flagged, Emirati-owned chemical tanker was nearby as well, Ambrey said.
The Associated Press could not immediately identify the vessels involved.
The Houthis typically take several hours to claim their assaults and have not yet done so for the assault late Tuesday.
Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over the Israel-Hamas war. Those vessels have included at least one with cargo for Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor, and an aid ship later bound for Houthi-controlled territory.
Despite over a month of US-led airstrikes, Houthi rebels remain capable of launching significant attacks. Last week, they severely damaged a ship in a crucial strait and downed an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars. The Houthis insist their attacks will continue until Israel stops its combat operations in the Gaza Strip, which have enraged the wider Arab world and seen the Houthis gain international recognition.

 


Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood

Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood
Updated 28 February 2024
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Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood

Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood
  • Most Palestinians in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, have the right to vote in municipal elections but not for parliament

JERUSALEM: Israelis voted Tuesday in twice postponed municipal elections that could offer a gauge of the public mood nearly five months into the war against Hamas in Gaza.
Soldiers had already cast their ballots over the past week at special polling stations set up in army encampments in Gaza as fighting raged.
Polls opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) and closed at 10:00 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Tuesday, at which point turnout stood at around 49 percent, according to election authorities.
That was down from 59.5 percent in 2018.
Turnout in Jerusalem was 30.8 percent and in Tel Aviv it was 40 percent, the authorities said.
More than seven million people were eligible to vote in the elections for local councils across most of Israel, in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, in Jerusalem and in parts of the annexed Golan Heights.
No major incidents were reported.
The vote, first scheduled for October 31, has been pushed back to November 2024 in towns and villages bordering the besieged Gaza Strip or Lebanon, where Hamas ally Hezbollah has fired rockets at Israel almost daily since the start of the Gaza war.
Nearly 150,000 Israelis have been displaced by hostilities in those areas.
Amit Peretz, 32, a Jerusalem city council candidate, said Jerusalem’s diverse make-up demands that “all voices are heard in the city in order to make everything work, because it’s very complex.”
Gita Koppel, an 87-year-old resident of Jerusalem, said she turned out because voting was “the only way you can have your voice heard.”
“I hope the right people come in and do the right thing for Jerusalem,” she said.
The elections were delayed after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of at least 1,160 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 29,878 people in Gaza, most of them women and minors, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Two candidates for council chief in Gaza border areas were killed in the October 7 attack: Ofir Libstein in Kfar Aza and Tamar Kedem Siman Tov, who was shot dead at her home in Nir Oz with her husband and three young children.
In Jerusalem and other major cities, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish candidates aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political allies were running against government critics and more moderate candidates.
Netanyahu has faced increasing public pressure over the fate of hostages still held in Gaza, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.
Tel Aviv’s mayor of 25 years, Ron Huldai, is seeking re-election in a race against former economy minister Orna Barbivai, who could become the first woman in the job.
Lawyer Amir Badran, an Arab candidate who had initially announced he would run for Tel Aviv mayor, quit the race before election day but was still vying for a city council seat.
In Jerusalem, another Arab candidate, Sondos Alhoot, was running at the head of a joint Jewish-Arab party. If elected, she would be the first Arab woman on the city council since 1967.
The elections for municipal and regional councils are largely seen as local affairs, though some races can become springboards for politicians with national ambitions.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who had a brief stint as prime minister before Netanyahu returned to power in late 2022, said Tuesday’s vote shows “there is no problem” holding elections even during the war.
In a post on social media platform X, Lapid called for a snap parliamentary election “as soon as possible” to replace Netanyahu.
Most Palestinians in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, have the right to vote in municipal elections but not for parliament.
Palestinian residents make up around 40 percent of the city’s population, but many of them have boycotted past elections.
Second round run-offs will be held where necessary on March 10.


Gaza death toll nears 30,000 as aid groups warn of ‘imminent’ famine

Gaza death toll nears 30,000 as aid groups warn of ‘imminent’ famine
Updated 28 February 2024
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Gaza death toll nears 30,000 as aid groups warn of ‘imminent’ famine

Gaza death toll nears 30,000 as aid groups warn of ‘imminent’ famine
  • One in six children under 2 years of age in northern Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition
  • WFP “is ready to swiftly expand and scale up our operations if there is a ceasefire agreement,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau said

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The Gaza war’s reported Palestinian death toll neared 30,000 Wednesday as fighting raged in the Hamas-run territory despite mediators insisting a truce with Israel could be just days away.
Another 91 people were killed in overnight Israeli bombardment, the health ministry said.
Mediators from Eygpt, Qatar and the United States have been trying to find a path to a ceasefire amid the bitter fighting, with negotiators seeking a six-week pause in the nearly five-month war.
After a flurry of diplomacy, mediators said a deal could finally be within reach — reportedly including the release of some Israeli hostages held in Gaza since Hamas’s October 7 attack in exchange for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.
“My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire” but “we’re not done yet,” US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday.
Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said Doha was “hopeful, not necessarily optimistic, that we can announce something” before Thursday.
But he cautioned that “the situation is still fluid on the ground.”
Doha has suggested the pause in fighting would come before the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month which starts on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
Hamas had been pushing for the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza — a demand rejected outright by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But a Hamas source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the deal might see the Israeli military leave “cities and populated areas,” allowing the return of some displaced Palestinians and humanitarian relief.
Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has killed at least 29,954 people, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.
The war was triggered by an unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Since the war began, hundreds of thousands of Gazans have been displaced, with nearly 1.5 million people now packed into the far-southern city of Rafah, where Israel has warned it plans to launch a ground offensive.
Those who remain in northern Gaza have been facing an increasingly desperate situation, aid groups have warned.
“If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza,” the World Food Programme’s deputy executive director Carl Skau told the UN Security Council Tuesday.
His colleague from the UN humanitarian office OCHA, Ramesh Rajasingham, warned of “almost inevitable” widespread starvation.
The WFP said no humanitarian group had been able to deliver aid to the north for more than a month, with aid blocked from entering by Israeli forces.
“I have not eaten for two days,” said Mahmud Khodr, a resident of Jabalia refugee camp in the north, where children roamed with empty pots.
“There is nothing to eat or drink.”
Most aid trucks have been halted, but foreign militaries have air dropped supplies including on Tuesday over Rafah and Gaza’s main southern city Khan Yunis.
What aid does enter Gaza passes through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt, fueling a warning from UN chief Antonio Guterres that any assault on the city would “put the final nail in the coffin” of relief operations in the territory.
Israel has insisted it would move civilians to safety before sending troops into Rafah but it has not released any details.
Egypt has warned that an assault on the city would have “catastrophic repercussions across the region,” with Cairo concerned about an influx of refugees.
Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said Tuesday that Israel will “listen to the Egyptians and their interests,” adding that Israel “cannot conduct an operation” with the current large population in Rafah.
Ahead of the threatened ground incursion, the area has been hit repeatedly by Israeli air strikes.
An AFP correspondent reported that overnight several air strikes hit the southern cities of Khan Yunis and Rafah, as well as Zeitun in central Gaza.
The army said it had “killed a number of terrorists and located weapons” in Zeitun.
It said two more soldiers had died in the fighting in Gaza, taking its overall toll to 242 since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.