Lost food, wasted resources: global food supply chain losses and their impacts on freshwater, cropland, and fertiliser use

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Reducing food losses and waste is considered to be one of the most promising measures to improve food security in the coming decades. Food losses also affect our use of resources, such as freshwater, cropland, and fertilisers. In this paper we estimate the global food supply losses due to lost and wasted food crops, and the resources used to produce them. We also quantify the potential food supply and resource savings that could be made by reducing food losses and waste. We used publically available global databases to conduct the study at the country level. We found that around one quarter of the produced food supply (614 kcal/cap/day) is lost within the food supply chain (FSC). The production of these lost and wasted food crops accounts for 24% of total freshwater resources used in food crop production (27 m3/cap/yr), 23% of total global cropland area (31 × 10− 3 ha/cap/yr), and 23% of total global fertiliser use (4.3 kg/cap/yr). The per capita use of resources for food losses is largest in North Africa & West-Central Asia (freshwater and cropland) and North America & Oceania (fertilisers). The smallest per capita use of resources for food losses is found in Sub-Saharan Africa (freshwater and fertilisers) and in Industrialised Asia (cropland). Relative to total food production, the smallest food supply and resource losses occur in South & Southeast Asia. If the lowest loss and waste percentages achieved in any region in each step of the FSC could be reached globally, food supply losses could be halved. By doing this, there would be enough food for approximately one billion extra people. Reducing the food losses and waste would thus be an important step towards increased food security, and would also increase the efficiency of resource use in food production.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477-489
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

    Research areas

  • Food losses, Food security, Food supply, Food waste, Global scale, Resource use

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