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Keynote Statement by Gilbert F. Houngbo President of IFAD at Conference on Food Loss and Waste Reduction

Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Rockefeller Foundation

Location: Vatican City

11 November 2019



Ladies and gentlemen,


  1. Its always a great pleasure to be amongst colleagues and friends in the development community to take stock of where we are, reflect on where we need to be, and redirect our efforts where required.
  2. This morning we heard compelling evidence about the causes, scale, and consequences of food loss and waste.
  3. My personal experience with pre-harvest, in-harvest, and post-harvest losses growing up on my parents’ farm will always be etched in my memory. So, too, are images of unsold food being cleared from supermarket shelves; and piles of leftovers being thrown away at restaurants.
  4. Food loss and waste have been with us for a long time, and they continue to be an impediment to meeting our zero hunger goal. This is why IFAD and others here today champion SDG 12.3, which calls on us to cut food waste in half and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030.
  5. As we now shift gears and move the discussion towards practical measures, I would like to take a few minutes to talk about the complexity of this global problem.
  6. Reducing food loss and waste may seem like a relatively straight-forward objective. But as this year’s State of Food and Agriculture report notes, actual implementation is not simple.
  7. The main reason is that food systems are a complex web connecting many different elements including nutrition, water management, marine resources, terrestrial ecosystems, food access, food prices, and even cultural heritage.
  8. So as we consider how to reduce food loss and waste, we need to be aware that any action taken in one area may have an impact elsewhere in the food system. We also need better data in order to make sure interventions are targeted and effective – and that they do not have any unintended negative side-effects.
  9. We also need to support small-scale farmers.
  10. Smallholders produce 50 per cent of all food calories on 30 per cent of the world’s agricultural land.

Ladies and gentlemen,

  1. Today, I will focus my remarks on food loss because in the poor rural communities where IFAD works, losses are quite high, but very little food goes to waste. What isn’t eaten or sold is used for animal feed, or turned into compost and ploughed back into the soil.
  2. But bad weather, pests, or disease can force farmers to leave their crops in the field, resulting in food loss. Food is also lost when farmers don’t have access to simple harvesting technologies, storage, drying facilities, processing, or affordable transport.
  3. Poor rural roads make it difficult and costly for farmers to get their produce to markets. Since childhood and more recently during several field visits, I have witnessed trucks loaded with farm produce that have broken down on their way to market.
  4. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than one-third of the population lives five hours away from the nearest market town of 5,000 people.
  5. This is a particular problem for fresh fruit and vegetables. Just think what tomatoes packed into wicker baskets would look like after a five-hour journey down a bumpy dirt road.
  6. Certainly, transporting those tomatoes in plastic crates instead of wicker baskets would prevent them from getting crushed.
  7. But let us ponder for a second – if more tomatoes get to market, do you think the farmers make more money from the higher volume, or will the financial returns go to the trader?
  8. And if farmers see no gain, will they see any point investing in the plastic crates?
  9. This illustration points us to the need for policies and actions to develop rural infrastructure so farmers can get food safely and in good condition to market.
  10. Yet national strategies addressing food loss are a rarity, and often governments lack the expertise and resources to incorporate evidence-based information into agricultural strategies.
  11. An example of how we are addressing this challenge is a joint project with our sister agencies in Rome -- the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Food Programme. The project is designed to fill in the knowledge and policy gaps in three African countries – Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda.
  12. In the first phase, the project carried out detailed analysis to identify critical loss points for crops along the value chain.
  13. Then, it introduced technologies such as dryers, shellers, plastic silos, tarpaulins and hermetic bags, along with training in post-harvest management to stem the losses.
  14. The results of the food loss analysis enabled each country to integrate food loss reduction into its agriculture and development policy frameworks.
  15. At the global level, the project established a community of practice to share knowledge and networking.
  16. This is just one example of the steps we can take to fill policy and data gaps.
  17. Financing is another critical issue. We need to look at how to increase access to rural finance to allow households to invest in food loss reduction – such as using hermetically sealed bags that prevent grain pest infestation during storage. And we also need to consider how to meet the financing needs of small and medium sized rural businesses.
  18. Only ten per cent of rural communities have access to even the most basic formal financial services.
  19. Improving access to financing requires partnerships with the private sector and governments.
  20. IFAD recognises this and together with partners, recently launched the ABC Fund to stimulate private-sector investments in small and medium-sized enterprises in rural areas.
  21. We are also exploring new options, such as a dedicated private sector financing programme that will crowd-in private sector investments and leverage private sector know-how and innovation to deliver scaled-up impact for small-scale producers and rural communities.   


Ladies and gentlemen,

  1. As you continue your discussions on food loss and waste, I ask you to consider how loss reduction fits into food systems, and what we need food systems to deliver.
  2. I would argue that we need food systems that are inclusive of the most marginalized members of society, that provide sufficient and nutritious food for all, and that contribute to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, especially zero hunger and no poverty.
  3. As you have heard, a Food Systems Summit is likely to be convened by the UN Secretary General in 2021.
  4. We expect the summit to help build global momentum to address this challenge. And I am sure that issues of food loss and waste will be on the table.
  5. One thing I can say with certainty is that, at a time when 820 million children, women and men go hungry every day, and when increasingly erratic weather is putting food systems under pressure, we cannot afford to look away. All of us have an obligation to be personal change agents to stop the loss and the waste.
  6. In conclusion, let me thank the Vatican and the Rockefeller Foundation for choosing to host a conference on such an important topic.
  7. I look forward to hearing from the panelists.