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food waste

Why cities matter for the global food system

Francisco Obreque's picture
Also available in: Español
La Paz, Bolivia. Photo by Andy Shuai Liu / World Bank

I was with the World Bank delegation at the Habitat III Conference in Quito last week, reflecting on the future of cities and speaking at a panel on food security. While there, I could not help but remember the story of Wara, an indigenous Aymara woman, one of eight children from a poor rural family living in the Bolivian Altiplano. Poverty forced her to migrate to the city when she was young.

Now living in La Paz, Wara has been working as a nanny in households for decades. She has three teenagers. Her oldest son is overweight and has already had several health problems. He occasionally works with his father building houses. The other kids are still in school and Wara hopes that armed with an education, they will be able to find a good job.

According to statistics, Wara is no longer poor. Indeed, Wara and her family are better off when compared to her modest origins. The truth is, however, that she is vulnerable and can easily fall back into poverty and hunger.

As in most Aymara families, Wara’s husband administers the money, including her own earnings, but she is the food-provider for the family. Each Saturday he gives Wara some money to get food for the week. She wakes up early to go to one of the four big markets in La Paz to buy basic staples such as potatoes, fresh vegetables, rice, sugar and oil, among others.

At the market, Wara doesn’t always find everything she needs. Climatic or logistic factors often hamper food deliveries to the city. When this occurs, perishable food arrives in bad condition or with lesser quality, and many products are just thrown away.

The story of Wara illustrates some of the current and future challenges for the food system. 

Por qué las ciudades importan para el sistema global de alimentación

Francisco Obreque's picture
Also available in: English
La Paz, Bolivia. Photo by Andy Shuai Liu / World Bank

La semana pasada fui parte de la delegación del Banco Mundial en la Conferencia Habitat III en Quito, reflexionando sobre el futuro de las ciudades y participando en un panel sobre seguridad alimentaria. Mientras estaba allí, no pude evitar de recordar la historia de Wara, una mujer indígena aymara, una de los 8 hijos de una familia rural pobre del Altiplano boliviano. La pobreza la forzó a migrar a la ciudad cuando era joven.

Viviendo en La Paz, Wara ha estado trabajando por décadas como nanny en hogares. Ella tiene tres hijos ya jóvenes. El mayor tiene sobrepeso y ya ha tenido varios problemas de salud. Él trabaja ocasionalmente con su padre en la construcción de casas. Los otros hijos todavía están en el colegio y Wara espera que con educación ellos podrán conseguir un buen trabajo en el futuro.

De acuerdo a las estadísticas, Wara ya no es pobre. En realidad, Wara y su familia están mejor en comparación con sus modestos orígenes. Sin embargo, la verdad es que ella es vulnerable y puede rápidamente caer de nuevo en la pobreza y el hambre.

Five reasons cities should take a leading role on food waste

John Morton's picture
Reported figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on food loss and food waste highlight its importance to the global environment. Food loss and waste annually contribute 3.3 gigagrams of CO2 equivalent, or over twice the total emissions of India; waste 250 cubic kilometers of water which is equivalent to 100 million Olympic-sized swimming pools; and 1.4 billion hectares of agricultural land, an area larger than China. Considering that, if only 1/4 of the food lost or wasted across the globe could be recovered, it could feed 750 million people, it is also shocking when presented in the context of global food insecurity and hunger.
These statistics highlight the need to address the problem as global citizens. But if you look at it closer, the incentives for action are indeed very local, making cities—as the centers of consumption in the world—important game changers with strong reasons to take action.