Circular approaches to drive innovation and reduce waste in food and wider agriculture

Food loss and waste causes about $940bn per year in economic losses. It exacerbates food insecurity and malnutrition. And food that is ultimately lost or wasted consumes about a quarter of all water used by agriculture, requires cropland area the size of China and is responsible for an estimated 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The third target of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (SDG 12.3) states that:  “By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses”.

Around a third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted from the farm to the fork. As shown in the figure below, most of this loss is at the consumption stage particularly in developed countries.


Cereals (excluding beer), vegetables and meats have amongst the highest carbon footprints and result in the most food wastage.


Globally, Champions 12.3 is a coalition of executives from governments, businesses, international organisations, research institutions, farmer groups, and civil society dedicated to inspiring ambition, mobilizing action, and accelerating progress toward achieving SDG Target 12.3 by 2030. The coalition is hosted by the World Resources Institute.


The use of big data and precision technologies are seen as a key approaches to enhance efficiencies, productivity and resilience. For example, big data are being used in climate-smart agricultural  initiatives to improve rice yields. The outputs and outcomes of projects such as the Agricultural Model and Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) are being used to model scenarios and build global food security. In this same vein, Blockchain technology is increasingly being employed as a means of enhancing transparency and traceability. For example, block-chain enabled kiosks are being utilised by the start-up Bext360 that provides coffee farmers with the opportunity to have more ‘control’ over the supply chain and the prices that they can sell their coffee ‘cherries’ for. Block chain has also been used in Australia. In East Africa, work has been ongoing to enhance the use of climate-smart technologies and practices by farmers. Precision agriculture (i.e. technologies and approaches to reduce overlapping and overspraying), is increasing being employed to increase productivity, but at the same time also reduce the impact of farming on the environment.

There are also increasing efforts to recover value from the waste produced. For example, it is estimated that around 500,000 tonnes of coffee waste goes to landfill in the UK annually. Revive Eco produces a range of environmentally friendly products (including biomass pellets and fertilisers), from coffee grounds. Similarly, Bio-bean is using spent coffee grounds to make biofuels and biochemicals. While FRUU develops skincare products derived from the proceeded waste of fruits (e.g. seeds and skins), which generates extra revenue for small fruit farmers.

Upcoming events

Over the coming months, there are a number of events that should be of interest.  Innovate UK is running a series of workshops for low-carbon companies workshops. The 2017 Natural Product Biotechnology (NPB 2017) event is an international and multidisciplinary research, knowledge transfer and business development conference focused on biotechnology and high value natural products. It will take place on 25th – 26th September 2017 at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre. The event aims to engage people and organisations from across the life science and biotechnology communities to discuss natural product resources and sustainable feedstocks, sustainable technologies and the circular economy. A conference looking at the issue of food waste will be hosted by the University of Northampton on the 5th October. On November 22, there will be workshop in London, on the use of big data in AgriFood.



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