THE BLOG
10/05/2015 05:03 am ET Updated Oct 04, 2016

The Middle Class Are Urbanizing at a Rapid Speed, Can the Global Food System Keep Up? Is Reducing Food Waste the Key?

Bloomberg via Getty Images

Between 2010 and 2025 one billion people earning more than $10 a day will move from rural areas into a city. These new city-dwellers will be introduced to more diverse foods, and while this has the potential to reduce malnutrition numbers it's unclear how the global food system will meet the demand sustainably.

While global food production needs to increase by 40 percent by 2030 and 70 percent by 2050, it's been estimated that 30 percent of global production is lost or wasted annually. This means nearly half the food gap could be met by reducing food loss.

In high income countries most of the waste is taking place at the retail/consumer end of the supply chain, often foods thrown out form the kitchen. However in low and middle income countries this is taking place more at the production and distribution end of the supply chain.

One mechanism to reduce post-harvest loss is to implement cold chains, a temperature controlled supply chain, which is often lacking or inefficient in low and middle income countries. Cold chains could contribute significantly to ensuring less food is wasted and more consumers, including low income households, are able to access diverse and nutritious foods. Annually, 200 million tonnes of perishable foods could be saved if low income countries had the same level of cold chain technology and capacity as in high income countries. The catch is that cold chains are often reliant on diesel fuels, a big contributor to climate change.

According to Toby Peters, Visiting Professor at the University of Birmingham "We don't need cold chains but we need clean cold chains" to ensure urbanising emerging markets don't lose nutritious foods. Speaking at the House of Lords on Sustainably Meeting the Global Food Crisis- Why we need to 'green' cold chains Peters further highlighted increasing cold chains does not just mean access to the market for rural emerging market farmers, but can mean moving up the value chain and earning more. He finds "what is needed is a paradigm shift to zero-emission, clean and cold technologies to transport food, while retaining its nutritional and economic value. We have to keep food-moving but we must not create an environmental disaster to prevent a social crisis".

"We need supply chains that connect farmers to consumers and not let cities become bottlenecks", Captain Pawanexh Kohli, Chief Advisor, National Centre for Cold-Chain Development (NCCD), Ministry of Agriculture. Rapid urbanization, if not managed properly, can lead to burdensome inefficient infrastructure making it difficult for transport vehicles to enter overcrowded areas due to traffic, which thus can lead to increased pollution, even more traffic. It can reduce access for low income urban dwellers that tend to live in the densest settlements and often utilize informal markets. Urban planning must become a priority in the multitude of megacities that are predominantly growing in the emerging markets. Additionally, the rising medium-sized cities, the fastest growing urban agglomerations in Asia and Africa, must learn from mega-city successes and failures to pre-emptively combat challenges.

Global and national policies must start addressing cooling systems and post-harvest loss. The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) has created the Nutrient Capture Facility in order to encourage action on the issue of post-harvest loss. GAIN's Nutrient Capture Facility will build alliances to improve the efficiency of national food systems to reduce unnecessary food loss and significant nutrient leakage. GAIN and the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA) are connecting global nutritious food cooling and cold industry companies to discuss post-harvest loss and opportunities through such activities in the developing world.

Scaling up innovative green cold chain technologies will be a key component in the paradigm shift that must occur in the urban food system. Global and national policies should incentivize companies to invest in these technologies in emerging market economies where the urban middle class is rapidly rising and thus multiplying consumer demand. The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference will be a key component in driving these policies forward. We need to build alliances among the different actors across and within supply chains to ensure less food is wasted and more nutrients are captured to ensure the most vulnerable people gain access to the essential vitamins and minerals to help them become healthier, stronger and more productive.