John Manners-Bell is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Transport Intelligence, United Kingdom, and a Member of the Global Agenda Council on Logistics & Supply Chains.
It is forecasted that the world’s population will rise to 9.1 billion by 2050 and that food production will have to increase by 70% if it is to meet people’s needs. Although developments in farming and technology have so far allowed food production to keep pace with the growth in the number of hungry mouths, if the world is to keep feeding its ever-burgeoning population, more will have to be done.
The Global Agenda Council on Logistics and Supply Chains believes that there must be improvements in all sections of the food supply chain and this includes how products are moved to market – that is, the role of logistics and transportation. The Council plans to take cursory look at the processes involved to understand and potentially rectify the enormous inefficiencies that presently exist in the movement and storage of foodstuffs. This results in a large proportion of product perishing en route to market.
Although empirical evidence is scarce, it is estimated that, in the developing world, between one-third and one-half of food is lost post-harvest between farmer and consumer. This occurs through poor handling or biodeterioration by microorganisms, insects, rodents or birds. Livestock products, fish, fruit and vegetables are most at risk due to poor standards of refrigeration. Most fresh produce is transported in an unpackaged form and is often sold at markets, where handling dramatically reduces its shelf life.
Upgrading transport infrastructure, better trucks, better packaging, enhancing the reliability of power supplies (allowing for more refrigerated storage) and improving training would have immediate supply chain benefits. Much can be done to encourage private and government support for these highly achievable aims.
Improving food logistics in developing countries does not just have humanitarian implications. It would also decrease the need for additional areas to be cultivated, which would reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. It would also reduce the level of farming intensity, meaning fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers required.
Production levels are already sufficient to feed the world’s population for many years to come. The real challenge is getting these products from farm to fork (or chopstick) with the minimum of waste.
Image: Coffee farmer unloads sacks of ripe cherries from his pickup truck REUTERS/Jorge Silva