Given all the talk and action around food loss in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), it is a shame this review in the Food Policy journal was not written 10 or even 5 years ago. Why?
First, it helps remind us why we might be interested in reducing food loss and waste: to improve food security, to improve food safety, to reduce wasted resources and to increase profits along the food supply chain. Often these objectives will not align and we need to be clear about which one we are most interested in affecting.
Second, it helps identify gaps in knowledge: we don’t know much above the drivers of food loss and waste in SSA; there is little reliable data on the magnitude of food losses beyond the farm gate – particularly for the nutritious and highly perishable foods — there is little apparent interest or understanding of the nutrient quality of food losses, and there are very few evaluations of interventions that assess the impacts on human well being or assess the spill over effects up and down the food value chain.
Third, it introduces some economic realism into the debate: given that reducing food loss is expensive, the optimal level of loss and waste is surely not zero (a widespread assumption, although not in SDG 12 which calls for halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains). The paper also notes that optimal levels of food loss and waste will differ by the different objectives listed above.
Fourth, it highlights gaps in action: most current interventions are on farm, directed at hermetic storage, and there are very few efforts focused on broad based investment areas that may deliver reductions in food loss and food waste but will also deliver broader based benefits, e.g. in infrastructure, rural finance and warehouse receipt systems.
GAIN, working with its partners, is seeking to reduce the loss of nutritious food along the selected food value chains in Nigeria, Indonesia, and Ethiopia — and this paper resonates: we look to reduce food loss with a view to improve the availability of nutritious food, but also to improve profits for supply chain actors including farmers; we work beyond the farm gate (where there is little evidence to guide); we look at nutrient loss as well as food quantity loss and we seek to estimate impacts at the human level (e.g. on what people eat) and up and down the supply chain (although this is challenging).
So if you are working in Sub-Saharan Africa on reducing food loss along food supply chains you would do well to read this critical but thoughtful paper and consider how we, as a community, can gather better evidence before another 5 or 10 years pass.
I am a big fan of the Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI). It is one of the few independent science-based mechanisms to fame and shame the 22 biggest food and beverage companies on their efforts to improve nutrition through the marketing and formulation of their products.
This week sees the launch of the third global index and it provides a highly credible set of scores. During my stint at the Global Nutrition Report the Access to Nutrition Foundation (ATNF) team were kind enough to undertake sector level analyses for us and I got to see some of the excellent quality assurance mechanisms put in place for the data collection, analysis and reporting.
As with most ATNI reports, there is good news and bad.
First the good: most companies are upping their game in terms of their scores. It is hard to know how much of this behaviour change is due to the Index itself versus responses to prevailing trends, but I suspect the Index has had a significant effect on many companies who want their investors to see that they take these issues seriously.
Nestlé is the highest scoring company with 6.8 out of 10, up from 5.9 in 2016, but, as a set, the average score per company is still low: 3.3, up from 2.5 in 2016. FrieslandCampina and Kelloggshow the largest gains since 2016, largely as a result of greater disclosure and more publicly available material on their efforts to improve nutrition. These companies (and there are more listed in the report) should be congratulated for these improvements.
There is, however, plenty of room for improvement.
Consider the following:
Some company scores actually declined. For example, General Mills’ score worsened due to poorer data release and some companies such as the Brazilian giant, BRF, did not provide any data.
Of the 22 companies scored, 16 define one or more targets to reformulate their products, but only for some of their products, for some nutritional components and with considerable fuzziness over baselines and timelines.
Of the 22 companies, only 2 have targets relating to positive components of a healthy diet recognized in the ATNI methodology, such as fruits and vegetables.
Only 6 companies cover responsible marketing to children in ALL media.
Only 3 companies offer global support to working parents in terms of facilities for expressing and storing breast milk as well as paid parental leave.
Only 2 companies commit to labelling ALL nutrients globally.
Only 3 companies commit to lobbying in support of measures to prevent and address obesity.
Only 3 companies have global policies to make nutritious food more available and accessible to all, including low income and high priority populations.
Only one company has extended its policy on responsible marketing to children to adolescents in the 13-18 age group.
So the report clearly provides a basis for a “Charter for Responsible Large Food and Beverage Companies”, including the following:
Commit to reformulate all products. Reduce the salt, sugar and fat where it needs to be reduced and increase nutrients and fibre-rich ingredients such as fruits and vegetables where it needs to be improved. It can be a 5-year programme, but commit to it, and provide baselines, targets and dates so stakeholders can follow progress.
Commit to having a programme in their companies that makes it easy for breastfeeding parents to express, store and feed infants with breastmilk; and provide parental leave. No exceptions.
Commit to market responsibility to all children 0-18 years of age, via all media. No exceptions.
Commit to not lobby against the introduction of diet related public health measures for which there is a scientific consensus. There may be debate over timing and implementation, but not over the public health benefits.
As I have said in many places, food companies must be celebrated when they get it right and show progress and called out when they do not. This report does this in a clear, balanced and therefore powerful way. And the more specific and transparent the commitments, the more powerful the plaudits and the criticisms become, because we can be more sure of the quality of the assessments.
Those who do not report any data to ATNF simply look like they do not care about their customers’ wellbeing. They do this at their peril. The world is changing and the clamour for healthier food is only going to get louder—the best ethical and commercial position, surely, is to get out ahead of it.
When we look up the word “responsible” in internet search engines we get prompts for responsible travel, responsible investing, responsible government and responsible finance, but not for responsible food companies.
Food manufacturers, it is time to reach for the prize of being the most “responsible” company. ATNF will reward you for it. But much more importantly, your investors, your employees, your employees’ families — and your customers will reward you for it. Who among you will be the first?
This is an exciting time to be in Ethiopia. A new Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali, was appointed in early April and the newly reshuffled cabinet was announced last week—a new generation radiating hope, with a focus on unity, youth, and economic growth.
But will this new dawn also generate added impetus in Ethiopia’s fight against malnutrition in all its forms? There is certainly success to build on: under 5 stunting rates may be 38% but they have come down from 58% 16 years ago. That is faster than one percentage point a year and is considered to be good performance.
But there are storm clouds a plenty. The country continues to be hit by drought playing havoc with food availability and food prices. On top of this, diabetes, hypertension and overweight rates, while still low compared to many other countries in Africa, are increasing fast, driven by rapid urbanisation and changing lifestyles among other things.
Food consumption is at the centre of all forms of malnutrition and recent researchby Kalle Hirvonen and colleagues at IFPRI has shown just how much the real price of nutritious foods has risen over the past 16 years while the real price of cereals has stayed constant and those of sugar, fats and salt have actually decreased. Just imagine what the declines in stunting would have been if the price of nutritious foods had stayed constant or even declined.
The need for available, affordable and desirable nutritious food is at the heart of GAIN’s mission. We basically do two things: (1) make foods that vulnerable populations already eat more nutritious, and (2) make nutritious foods (typically unavailable or unaffordable) more likely to be consumed by the most vulnerable.
As I saw on my trip to Addis last week, GAIN in Ethiopia is working with partners to (1) help the Government implement its new voluntary fortification standards, (2) develop low cost home grown complementary foods that can be sustainably accessed by low income households and (3) reduce food loss in nutritious food value chains. We are planning additional work in a number of new areas that draw on our experience of linking governments, business and civil society to improve the consumption of nutritious foods.
Our view at GAIN is that while business is often a part of the problem it is also a big part of the solution. So we are happy to work with responsible businesses to find new solutions. And Ethiopia is brimming with entrepreneurial talent, much of it in the form of social enterprise start-ups, often run by individuals barely out of their teens. They relish the challenge of trying to reduce the price of nutritious foods. We met several of them at Blue Moon which provides support to these start-ups.
Small and medium enterprise business platforms can help to develop investible propositions for governments and business to improve the consumption of nutritious foods by surfacing and connecting businesses with these ambitions, providing them with some market analysis, and helping them understand the legislative and policy environment they work in.
But we don’t have to rely solely on markets for scale because Ethiopia has of one of the largest social protection programmes in Africa, the PSNP (Productive Safety Net Programme). The potential for this programme, reaching 8-10 million households every year, to serve as a platform for diet diversity via vouchers and choice of eligible foods must surely be high.
So will the new government deliver for nutrition? Yes, if the rest of society plays its part. We know that improved nutrition is everyone’s business AND everyone’s responsibility.
We will certainly be working with GAIN and partners in Ethiopia to try to convince the new PM and his team that malnutrition sits uncomfortably in a nation that sees itself as a middle income country by 2025, a leading light in Africa, and a source of manufacturing and innovation. The motto, “Made in Ethiopia” will only become a reality when we have made malnutrition in Ethiopia a bad dream.