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Food Waste: Doing the Math

José Cuesta's picture
Many consider statistics cold and faceless. I have always thought the opposite. There are multiple numbers in the development world that are striking and moving: the millions of people living on less than $1.25 a day; the number of children dying of preventable diseases or being unable to attend school regularly; or how many families have no access to safe water or electricity in today’s super-sophisticated technological world, just to mention a few.
 
But I have never found more compelling numbers than those related to food. In a world where 842 million people go to bed hungry every night, we actually produce sufficient food to provide, on average, 2,700 kilocalories every day, for everyone. In this same world:
 
  • Between one-fourth and one-third of the nearly 4 billion metric tons of food produced annually for human consumption is lost or wasted.
     
  • Asia and Africa account for  about 67% of all food lost and wasted, globally.
     
  • North America and Oceania lose and waste almost half of what they produce: 42%! More than half of food loss and waste in developed countries happens during consumption — usually as a result of a deliberate decision to throw food away.
     
  • Developing countries lose an average of 120 to 220 kg of food per person per year, which means that even regions ridden by undernutrition, such as South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, lose as many as 400 to 500 kilocalories per person, every day. 
If you want to know how many kilocalories someone living in your region loses or wastes, on average, check the following figure:

Food Lost and Wasted by Region, 2009
Food Lost and Wasted by Region
Source: Brian Lipinski, Craig Hanson, Richard Waite, et al., “Reducing Food Loss and Waste,” World Resources Institute Working Paper, June 2013.

Are Super Farms the Solution to the World’s Food Insecurity Challenge? Ten Questions You Need to Ask Yourself

José Cuesta's picture

Join me in a Twitter Chat on why global food prices remain high on Dec. 4 at 10 a.m. ET/15:00 GMT. I'll be tweeting from @worldbanklive with hashtag #foodpriceschat. Ask questions beforehand with hashtag #foodpriceschat. Looking forward to seeing you on Twitter.


Agriculture workers on a strawberry farm in Argentina. © Nahuel Berger/World Bank

Today there are 842 million who are hungry. As the global population approaches 9 billion by 2050, demand for food will keep increasing, requiring sustained improvement in agricultural productivity. Where will these productivity increases come from? For decades, small-scale family farming was widely thought to be more productive and more efficient in reducing poverty than large-scale farming. But now advocates of large-scale agriculture point to its advantages in leveraging huge investments and innovative technologies as well as its enormous export potential. Critics, however, highlight serious environmental, animal welfare, social and economic concerns, especially in the context of fragile institutions. The often outrageous conditions and devastating social impacts that “land grabs” bring about are well known, particularly in severely food-insecure countries.

So, is large-scale farming—particularly the popularly known “super farms”—the solution to food demand challenges? Or is it an obstacle? Here are the 10 key questions you need to ask yourself to better understand this issue. I have tried to address them in the latest issue of Food Price Watch.

High Food Prices and the Global Epidemic of Obesity

José Cuesta's picture

Available in Español, Français, عربي

Today, we know that being overweight or obese are major risk factors for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and premature death. We are constantly reminded that personal behaviors, influenced by culture and lifestyle, and our metabolic development contribute to being overweight or obese. In the March 2013 Food Price Watch, we wonder how another factor could potentially influence the world’s obesity epidemic: high food prices.

But first, let’s run a quick quiz. Many of us watch our weight routinely and may even have figured out our Body Mass Index—the ratio of body weight in kilograms by the square of body height in meters—to determine whether or not we are overweight. Yet there are some stunning facts about being overweight that you may not know.

Can you answer the questions about being overweight or obese below?  

Questions about being overweight or obese

Food Prices Still Critical Concern: 5 Questions for Economist José Cuesta

Karin Rives's picture

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High food prices appear to be the new normal, as are wild fluctuations in prices. The world ducked a global food crisis after some key staples such as maize and soybean soared to record levels in July 2012, but food security concerns have not dissipated. The latest issue of the World Bank’s Food Price Watch shows that while the October Food Price Index dropped 5 percent below its July peak, internationally traded foods such as grains and oils are still well above price levels a year ago.

World Bank economist José Cuesta, author of the quarterly Food Price Watch, says this is not the time for the world to become complacent about high and volatile food prices. We need more action to help the 870 million people who are hungry, and the many millions more who live under a constant threat of hunger, he says.

You Asked: What's Going on With Food Prices?

Karin Rives's picture

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Photo: © Michael Morris / World Bank

When the World Bank’s Food Price Watch reported last week that severe drought pushed prices of staples such as maize and soybean to an all-time high this summer, people everywhere took notice. What will it mean for the poor in regions most affected by rising prices? What will it mean for us? 

Economist José Cuesta, who authors the Bank’s quarterly Food Price Watch, asked readers of our last blog entry to submit their own questions about food prices. Here are his answers to a few of them.

Food Prices Are Soaring: 5 Questions for Economist José Cuesta

Karin Rives's picture

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Rice grains in bowl. Photo: Arne Hoel | The World Bank

Photo Credit: Arne Hoel/World Bank

The numbers are jarring: Global prices for key food staples such as corn and soybean were at an all-time high in July 2012, with corn rising 25 percent and soybeans 17 percent in a single month.

Globally, food prices jumped 7 percent between April and July. In some countries, people now pay more than twice as much for sorghum [1] as they did a year earlier, the latest issue of the World Bank’s Food Price Watch shows.

This is expected to hit certain regions with high food imports, such as the Middle East and much of Africa, especially hard.

We’re looking at a significant price shock, but does that mean we’re headed for a food crisis similar to the one we experienced in 2008? World Bank economist José Cuesta, the author of the quarterly Food Price Watch report, gives his perspective on the situation.

The Food Price Threat to Poor Continues

Sarah Holmberg's picture

Otaviano Canuto writes about the Food Price Watch today on the the Growth and Crisis blog.

He writes:

“According to the World Bank’s Food Price Watch, a brief just released tracking food prices and poverty trends, global food prices are 36% above their levels a year ago and remain volatile, close to their 2008 peak.  Key staples going through the roof include maize (74%), wheat (69%), soybeans (36%) and sugar (21%)...For some of us, expensive food might mean we spend more money in the supermarket, but for millions of people around the world, it is a real threat. The poor spend most of their money on food. So think about Mexicans, whose daily diet includes a good amount of tortillas. Or a family in Mauritania trying to get enough bread amid the 40% wheat price increase of the last year.”

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