The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has charged governments across the globe to prevent annual loss of 526 million tons in food production by investing in food cold chains.
It noted that investing in sustainable food cold chains is critical amidst the current food and climate crises.
While emphasising the effectiveness of food cold chains, UNEP noted that in Nigeria for instance, a project to install 54 operational ColdHubs has prevented the spoilage of 42,024 tonnes of food and increased the household income of 5,240 small-scale farmers.
On a global scale, it said more than 3 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet, nothing that lack of effective refrigeration directly results in the loss of 526 million tons of food production, or 12 per cent of the global total.
It said developing countries, such as Nigeria, could save 144 million tonnes of food annually if they reached the same level of food cold chain infrastructure as developed countries.
“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, the UN said in a report on Tuesday.
Launched on Tuesday at the 27th Climate Change Conference, the Sustainable Food Cold Chains report, from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), finds that food cold chains are critical to meeting the challenge of feeding an additional two billion people by 2050 and harnessing rural communities’ resilience, while avoiding increased greenhouse gas emissions.
The report was developed in the framework of the UNEP-led Cool Coalition in partnership with FAO, the Ozone Secretariat, UNEP OzonAction Programme, and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.
“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,” he added.
Food insecurity on the rise
The number of people affected by hunger in the world rose to 828 million in 2021, a year-on-year rise of 46 million.
Almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 112 million 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.
As post-harvest food loss reduces the income of 470 million 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, UNEP noted.
“Sustainable food cold chains can make an important difference in our collective efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. All stakeholders can help implement the findings of this report, to transform agrifood systems to be more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable – for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all, leaving no one behind” said QU Dongyu, Director-General of FAO.
Progress being made
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 while reducing emissions through the expansion of use of refrigerated transport.
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.
Recommendations for decision makers
To expand sustainable food cold chains globally, the report issues a series of recommendations for governments and stakeholders, including to:
- Take a holistic systems approach to food cold chain provision, recognizing that the provision of cooling technologies alone is not enough.
- Quantify and benchmark the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in existing food cold chains and identify opportunities for reductions.
- Collaborate and undertake food cold chain needs assessments and develop costed and sequenced National Cooling Action Plans, backed with specific actions and financing.
- Implement and enforce ambitious minimum efficiency standards, and monitoring and enforcement to prevent illegal imports of inefficient food cold chain equipment and refrigerants.
- Run large-scale system demonstrations to show positive impacts of sustainable cold chains, and how interventions can create sustainable and resilient solutions for scaling.
- Institute multidisciplinary centres for food cold chain development at the national or regional level.