Modern agriculture is the story of humankind’s key developments that progressed through “hunter-gatherer societies”, to the early masters of agriculture, to the industrialization of agriculture to address global challenges of food security and sustainability, which are arising because of a growing human population and changing dietary habits. Providing adequate, nutritious food for such a large population under challenging circumstances of depleting natural resources highlights the importance of the issue of Food Loss and Waste (FLW), a “global problem of enormous economic, environmental and societal significance” [1
]. This issue necessitates the global efforts on reducing losses and waste from the edible food mass during different stages of food supply chain (Figure 1
), and the classifications of the food supply chain dealing with food loss and waste varies from country to country [2
]. Overall, there is a pressing need to develop consensus about these main steps for the standardization of FLW quantification methods. However, FLW ramifications are part of several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), both directly and indirectly. Reducing Food Loss and Waste has long been considered a key topic on the G20 agenda. The latest G20 Leaders’ Riyadh Declaration, keeping in mind the severity of the FLW issue, endorses the SDG commitment 12.3 by acknowledging the “goal of voluntarily establishing intermediate country-specific targets to strengthen efforts towards halving global per capita food loss and waste by 2030”
]. These efforts at such an apex level would help to develop collaboration, knowledge sharing, expertise, and capabilities to expedite and promote coordination between the value chain players responsible for interrelated food issues, such as marketing, storage, handling, processing, quality, and safety in order to protect global food security and nutrition by reducing food loss and waste.
The cultural characteristics such as the joint celebration of large festivals, which lead to above-average amounts of surplus food that is wasted, and the prevailing environmental conditions of the region such as very hot weather contribute to enormous amounts of food losses. The present paper aims to provide an overview on the state of food sustainability and security in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as present food loss and waste generation on the basis of the first comprehensive national FLW estimation. In a next step, it provides selected policies in the Kingdom tackling the challenge with its economic, environmental, and social impacts. Then, local strategies, regional efforts, and global practices are introduced that could be adopted to overcome food loss and waste in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to become a role model in the region to contribute to food security and nutrition under challenging environmental conditions.
2. Materials and Methods: Fulfilling G20 Presidency as Leader in Tackling FLW
Against the background of the aforementioned challenges which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is facing in relation to food sustainability and security as well as food loss and waste, the hosting of the G20 presidency in 2020 was a very good opportunity to enhance further steps within G20 community and beyond. In this section, we will present a brief about the temporary leading role of the Kingdom as being the Incumbent G20 Presidency to raise awareness towards FLW among those important stakeholders.
The issue of food loss and waste has been addressed within the Meeting of Agricultural Chief Scientists of G20 (MACS-G20) since 2015. MACS-G20 was established in 2011 by the Agricultural Ministers of the G20 as a board at the science–policy interface. This board consists of respective decision makers and advisors from the G20 (MACS-G20 members) and from several international organizations (MACS-G20 guests). It meets annually in order to discuss transnational or global challenges and tasks in terms of food and agriculture, which cannot be solved by a single country (e.g., climate change, FLW, transboundary plant and animal diseases, biodiversity, agri-tech innovations, sustainable agriculture development in drylands, solutions concerning the Water, Energy, Food Nexus, etc.). Objectives of these efforts are to inform each other about agricultural research systems and accordingly funding structures in G20 states, bring together national resources and capabilities and launch joint initiatives and formats to work on problems of global relevance.
In 2015, Turkey hosted the G20 presidency, which is passed on to another member every year and raised the FLW issue to the agenda of MACS. As a result, a Collaboration Initiative Food Loss and Waste was put in place in which Germany voluntarily took over the coordination. The aim of the initiative is to increase the global impact of FLW prevention activities by a multilateral approach by sharing knowledge and experiences throughout the broad range of the topic. The MACS-G20 communiqué 2015 pointed out some tasks for the new initiative:
“MACS emphasized the importance of science and technology, pre- and post-harvest and throughout the food value chain, to reduce FLW including the control of plant and animal diseases, enhanced storage technologies, innovative packaging solutions, prolonged shelf life, creation of value added byproducts, and improved management practices”.
To support FAO, IFPRI, and other relevant international organizations in their efforts to develop a platform related to FLW, MACS agreed to share information and experiences relating to agricultural science and technology, in measuring and reducing FLW. MACS emphasized the value of having a common definitional and measurement framework as noted by Agriculture Ministers.
MACS agreed that a subset of members, led by Germany and in consultation with FAO and IFPRI, would conduct a preliminary mapping of their existing science and technology activities related to FLW, so as to contribute to enhanced information sharing and global coordination…” .
It was agreed that there should be concerted actions implemented to facilitate knowledge exchange not only on the level of G20 members and guests, but also available for other countries and stakeholders. The latter part of the communiqué was addressed by two activities shared by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Germany. The FAO, as a MACS-G20 guest, launched a specialized website within their online presence, which summarized all previous food loss and waste related documents, statements, events, and education material released by the FAO. Germany was responsible for elaborating and implementing an online global food loss and waste expert and project database (www.global-flw-research.org
, accessed on 16 July 2021) in order to cover the gap of identifying FLW experts in an easy way. The aim of the database is to search and find experts for specific FLW-related topics without an intensive scientific literature research, which is a barrier for stakeholders such as companies, private persons, or governmental staff members.
Both online tools were launched in the course of 2016 and are further hosted and sourced by the FAO and Germany. In parallel, the above-mentioned Collaboration Initiative Food Loss and Waste was equipped with a coordinator who is available to interested parties with expertise, develops ideas for cooperation or supports their implementation, and actively promotes exchange within the G20 group and beyond. In contrast to the general focus of the MACS-G20 on agriculture, the pressing issue of Food Loss and Waste is not restricted to the agricultural level but operates along the entire food supply chain as it has already formulated within the communiqué released in Izmir, Turkey in 2015 [5
]. Since 2015, the FLW issue has been a part of the annual MACS-G20 communiqué as well as the Agricultural Ministers’ Declaration.
Although in some countries, the agriculture and water responsibility is united within one ministry, in other countries, shared responsibilities address those topics. Thus, in 2020, under the Saudi G20 presidency, the Ministers´ Declaration was enlarged from agriculture to agriculture and water ministers in order to highlight the need of joint forces against urgent issues such as food loss and waste. In order to further enhance cooperation among different policy areas, Saudi Arabia organized other inter-disciplinary activities such as the Working Group on Climate Change meeting or the International Workshop on the Water, Energy, Food Nexus.
FLW contributes to the release of human-made greenhouse gas emissions along the entire food supply chain to a huge extent. The estimated global carbon footprint is 3.3 Gt carbon dioxide equivalents excluding emissions from land use change [6
]. This figure is equal to 7% of the total global GHG emissions. In order to enhance the acknowledgement of the important contribution of FLW reduction towards climate change mitigation, within the working group meeting the establishment of national baselines and the consideration of FLW reduction activities as part of reported National Determined Contributions (NDCs) and other reporting towards climate change goals were addressed on initiative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The International Workshop on the Water, Energy, Food Nexus aimed to (1) share valuable knowledge through international collaboration with relevant international organizations and interested G20 members in the balancing of water, energy, and land use for food production in challenging environmental conditions; (2) enhance collaboration towards capacity development for the implementation of WEF Nexus solutions; (3) exchange views and good practices for the effective and efficient utilization of global resources at the local, regional, and international levels; (4) support the development of evidence-based policies by providing tools and measures to the policy makers for responsible use of water and energy resources for achieving global food security; and (5) continue to build momentum and awareness of WEF Nexus challenges and potential solutions conditions. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the workshop was held on a virtual basis. Four contributors presented their results on FLW from research and practice including [7
Germany: Sustainability assessment methodology to evaluate FLW prevention measures for monitoring purposes and as information basis for decision makers.
UK: Innovative public-private partnerships to achieve 27% reduction in food waste. The strategies developed in the UK, delivered through wide-ranging partnerships supported by Governments and industry are effective—but more citizens and businesses must be reached and motivated to act.
Italy: Value from food chains and waste reduction: Complementary approaches for global sustainable food systems and bio-based economy.
USA: Food waste and the Water-Energy-Food Nexus: Water and energy footprints of produced and landfilled food waste: A Florida case study.
Food loss and waste contribute to a considerable portion of the global food supply. A Water, Energy, Food (WEF) Nexus approach can be a framework for quantifying impacts of wasted food to energy and water sectors, leading to better management decisions. Human decision making in terms of consumer choices leads to food waste and is at the root of the WEF waste nexus. Water and energy are both consumed in the production of wasted food. Water and energy are also consumed and energy may be produced in food waste management. The remediation of pollution is associated with both producing and managing wasted food. When less food is wasted, more food will be available without the need for increased agricultural production, and there is less food waste and food waste contamination to be managed. The awareness campaigns/measures should be carried out along the entire agri-food chain in line with this holistic approach—from farm to fork—and a balance between providing incentives and support for regulation and enforcement is needed. National guidelines, educational measures, and dissemination initiatives for consumer awareness are important to reduce waste and support transition through correct lifestyle and the adoption of healthy diets. Furthermore, sustainable development considers not only waste reduction but also (implementation) costs, relevant ecological indicators, and social effects.
An important political statement was achieved by the Saudi G20 presidency by including FLW issue on the highest G20 declaration, which is the Leaders´ Declaration. In that document, the focus is laid on establishing voluntary, intermediate, country-specific FLW reduction targets in order to strengthen efforts towards a 50% reduction per capita according to Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 [2
The FLW issue was also set as one priority within the G20 Agriculture deputies´ meeting where the cross-cutting characteristic of FLW and the interrelation to other Sustainable Development Goals than SDG 12.3 were highlighted.
One annual task of the aforementioned Collaboration Initiative is to organize a regional FLW workshop. In order to take the G20 responsibility more into account, the workshops are annually organized with the cooperation of the Thünen Institute, Germany, which hosts the Initiative coordinator with the corresponding G20 presidency. The workshop series started with the kick-off workshop in Berlin, Germany, in 2017. It was followed by a regional FLW workshop, which was organized for Latin America and the Caribbean countries (LAC) in November 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 2019, the target region included Southeast and East Asian countries, while the workshop took place in Tokyo, Japan. In 2020, the target region was the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Yemen. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, a half-day hybrid workshop was organized on 15 October 2020. In total, 65 participants from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Lebanon, Egypt, Bahrain, and Germany as well as from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) represented the scientific community, companies, interest groups, as well as authorities. The aim of the GCC Countries workshop was to provide an impetus for the establishment of regional networks and cooperation along the food value chain to facilitate further monitoring of Food Loss and Waste and the implementation of prevention measures in GCC countries. Particular emphasis was placed on the link between food security and food waste, business models for prevention, the contribution of households to the topic, and the role of an unbroken cold chain as well as reliable infrastructure. Participants also reported on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food supply chain in their countries and the measures taken to secure the supply and avoid unused surpluses. Special emphasis was placed on the cultural characteristics of the region, such as the joint celebration of large festivals, which lead to above-average amounts of surplus food. In addition to technical solutions to the special challenges posed by the region´s climate, the conference therefore called for awareness-raising measures targeting all stakeholders.