Lack of effective refrigeration directly results in loss of 526mn tonnes of food production: UN report
The report was launched on November 12 at the 27th Climate Change Conference (COP 27) being held at Sharm el-Sheikh. It highlights how lack of effective refrigeration directly results in the loss of 526mn tonnes of food production, or 12 per cent of the global total.
As food insecurity and global warming rise, governments, international development partners and industry should invest in sustainable food cold chains to decrease hunger, provide livelihoods to communities, and adapt to climate change. This was stated in the Sustainable Food Cold Chains report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launched on November 12 at the 27th Climate Change Conference (COP 27) being held at Sharm el-Sheikh. The report highlights how lack of effective refrigeration directly results in the loss of 526mn tonnes of food production, or 12 per cent of the global total.
“At a time when the international community must act to address the climate and food crises, sustainable food cold chains can make a massive difference,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “They allow us to reduce food loss, improve food security, slow greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, reduce poverty and build resilience – all in one fell swoop.”
According to the report, the number of people affected by hunger in the world rose to 828mn in 2021, a year-on-year rise of 46mn. Almost 3.1bn people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 112mn from 2019, as the economic impacts of the Covid pandemic drove up inflation. This year, meanwhile, the conflict in Ukraine has raised the prices of basic grains, threatening food security.
All of this comes while an estimated 14 per cent of all food produced for human consumption is lost before it reaches the consumer. The lack of an effective cold chain to maintain the quality, nutritional value and safety of food is one of the major contributors to food loss. According to the report, developing countries could save 144mn tonnes of food annually if they reached the same level of food cold chain infrastructure as developed countries.
As post-harvest food loss reduces the income of 470mn small-scale farmers by 15 per cent, mainly in developing countries, investing in sustainable food cold chains would help lift these farm families out of poverty.
The food cold chain has serious implications for climate change and the environment. Emissions from food loss and waste due to lack of refrigeration totalled an estimated 1 gigatonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent in 2017 – about 2 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, it contributes to emissions of methane, so taking action now would contribute to reducing atmospheric concentrations of methane this decade.
Projects around the world show that sustainable food cold chains are already making a difference. In India, a food cold chain pilot project reduced losses of kiwi fruit by 76 per cent. In Nigeria, a project to install 54 operational ColdHubs prevented the spoilage of 42,024 tonnes of food and increased the household income of 5,240 small-scale farmers, retailers and wholesalers by 50 per cent. But these projects, which are illustrated among many other case studies in the new report, are still the exception rather than the norm.
The report also has a few suggestions for decision-makers. It asks them to take a holistic systems approach to food cold chain provision, recognizing that the provision of cooling technologies alone is not enough. It also asks them to quantify and benchmark the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in existing food cold chains and identify opportunities for reductions.