With 10 years left to achieve 'Target 12.3' laid down by the United Nations of halving the rate of food loss and waste by 2030, logistics service providers must do their bit to employ technology to reduce wastage in the handling of perishables not just for increased profitability, but also for the environment, and how technology and regulation can help the cause.

On September 25, 2015 the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Four years later, this month (September 24-25, 2019), leaders of the world will meet at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to follow up and comprehensively review progress in the implementation of the Agenda.

Among the 17 SDGs, goal 2 is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, while the other 16 relate in varying degrees to attaining prosperity, peace, protection and sustainability for all. The 'Target 12.3' in the SDGs calls for halving the rate of food loss and waste by 2030. Is this goal achievable? How can the logistics industry help in reducing wastage especially in the perishables supply chain?

Each year, 1.6 billion tonnes of food worth about $1.2 trillion is lost or goes to waste — one-third of the total amount of food produced globally. This accounts for eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Resources Institute.

With around 10 years left to hit the target, the call to action is stronger than ever. A new research released at the 4th annual World Food Summit in August this year, suggests the simple ‘Target-Measure-Act’ approach to guide stakeholders to take an active role in tackling food loss and wastage. The World Food Summit held in Copenhagen, Denmark deliberated on the theme ‘Better Food for More People’ and the report ‘Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Setting a Global Action Agenda’ hopes to inspire stakeholders create a sustainable food future.

The report has been produced by World Resources Institute with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, and in partnership with United Nations Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, Iowa State University, The University of Maryland’s Ed Snider Center, The Consortium for Innovation in Postharvest Loss and Food Waste Reduction, Wageningen University and Research, the World Bank, and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

Research in the area of food security has identified areas that contribute to the problem greatly: lack of awareness of the problem and of solution to tackle it, fragmented supply chain infrastructure, lack of focus on efficiency efforts, weak collaboration across the value chain and insufficient regulations.

Role of logistics handlers
In the field of logistics, sustainability continues to be a catch-phrase to reduce costs not just for increased profitability but also for the environment. The Reducing Food Loss and Waste report clearly spells out calls of action at stages of production, handling & storage, processing & packaging, distribution & marketing and eventually consumption. It lays out a Global Action Agenda for reducing the rate of food loss and waste, and pushes for kick-starting action by stakeholders pursuing a tailored “to-do” specific to their roles.

For the transportation and logistics providers, this call to action means being more proactive in improving handling practices during loading and unloading, using technological innovation to improve the flow of information to optimise the perishables supply chain, introduction or expansion of energy-efficient cold chains from farm to fork, working closely with customers to provide them with planning and handling mechanisms that can help them reduce losses and wastage, and finally creating access to alternative markets for products that cannot be marketed.

Identifying relevant areas and setting clear goals can boost companies’ efforts to tackle food wastage. Logistics and storage companies can push for development of efficient cold chain facilities in emerging markets and use technology for areas like climate forecasting and improving supply-demand planning.

With 10 years left to achieve 'Target 12.3' laid down by the United Nations of halving the rate of food loss and waste by 2030, logistics service providers must do their bit to employ technology to reduce wastage in the handling of perishables not just for increased profitability, but also for the environment

Finding solutions through technology, regulation
Application of technology in the areas of data management, collaborative forecasting and product tracking can set businesses on the path to a sustainable perishables logistics supply chain.

September will mark the end of retail giant Walmart’s mandate that its suppliers use IBM Food Trust, the blockchain platform, a digital system for tracking and tracing food along the supply chain. It combines supply chain modules with blockchain core functions adding a value spin to the entire food ecosystem.

Using the Blockchain technology, Food Trust creates a “permissioned, permanent and shared record of food system data”, thus offering unprecedented visibility at each step. This creates transparency and trust as food moves from where it is produced to where it is consumed.

Consumer demand for more transparency, visibility and trust drives Food Trust. A simple QR code scan can reveal to a consumer: "Not only the origin and composition of the product, but which farmer participated in the harvest, when it was made, the date on which the food was processed, the identity of the factory that took care of it, even how many employees the agricultural enterprise has and which ethical certificates the producers hold.”

This level of enhanced digital traceability could help solve issues not just of wastage, but also help plug holes when there is contamination of food that can be fatal for consumers, as well as risk lives on its journey from farm to fork. In the event of a serious food safety issue, information stored on the blockchain can pinpoint where exactly the hazard happened. The data stored can be accessed easily and quickly to promote swift action to control the damage caused by the food contamination or reduced profitability by wastage.

The first IBM Food Trust blockchain product trials were spearheaded by Walmart in China in December 2016, while Nestle got involved in testing the product in August 2017. Carrefour tested the technology on a few branded products that are supplied to 12,000 stores in 33 countries, before adopting it generally by 2022. Dole Food, Tyson Foods, Kroger and Unilever have also signed up to reap benefits of Blockchain technology being used to create food traceability.

Thus, awareness, standardisation and regulation can be guiding light in the food supply chain, helping businesses to reduce wastage.

A Fresh perspective
In March this year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) launched the Center for Excellence for Perishable Logistics (CEIV Fresh) to improve the handling and the transport by air of perishable products.

The strict time and temperature requirements for perishable products make their handling and transportation challenging. Adopting IATA CEIV Fresh would be a step in the right direction to build a collaborative industry for perishables that calls for exacting time and temperature management. The certification is based on the "IATA Perishable Cargo Regulations (PCR) which combines professional regulatory and operational input from industry and government experts".

“Perishable goods is a growing market for air cargo. Ensuring that these delicate and short shelf-life products reach the customer unspoiled with minimal waste and loss is essential. Shippers will have assurance that CEIV Fresh certified companies are operating to the highest quality and standards in the transport of perishable products,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, while announcing the launch of the certification.

The IATA CEIV Fresh was piloted by the Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK), Cathay Pacific, Cathay Pacific Services Limited (CPSL) and Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (HACTL), to build a community approach so that common standards are maintained while handling perishable goods. As more airports and related organisations get onboard to adopt the certification, a culture of standardisation and collaboration can be cultivated, so that food wastage is minimised and the UN SDG goal of halving the rate of food loss and waste by 2030 becomes achievable.

The benefits of reducing food loss and waste can be significant. For instance, it would bridge the gap between food needed and food available, avoid the need encroach upon natural ecosystems for agricultural purposes and eventually lower greenhouse gas emissions. It's up to logistics companies in the perishables space to do their bit to reap tangible business benefits like lower costs, newer markets and better revenue opportunities simply acting with awareness and adopting sustainable practices.

This story was originally published in Logistics Update Africa's September - October 2019 issue.

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