Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted, according to an FAO-commissioned study.

The document, Global Food Losses and Food Waste, was commissioned by FAO from the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (SIK) for Save Food!.

  • Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food — respectively 670 million tons and 630 million tons.
  • Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tons) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons).
  • Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.
  • The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world's annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tons in 2009/2010).

Losses and waste

The report distinguishes between food loss and food waste. Food losses — occurring at the production, harvest, post-harvest and processing phases — are most important in developing countries, due to poor infrastructure, low levels of technology and low investment in the food production systems. Food waste is more a problem in industrialized countries, most often caused by both retailers and consumers throwing perfectly edible foodstuffs into the trash. Per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia each throw away only 6-11 kg a year.

Total per capita food production for human consumption is about 900 kg a year in rich countries, almost twice the 460 kg a year produced in the poorest regions. In developing countries 40 percent of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialized countries more than 40 percent of losses happen at retail and consumer levels. 

Food losses during harvest and in storage translate into lost income for small farmers and into higher prices for poor consumers, the report noted. Reducing losses could therefore have an "immediate and significant" impact on their livelihoods and food security.