When an established bakery last week released an infographic indicating the volume of wasted bread each year in Turkey to mark World Bread Day, media outlets noted that there is a considerable amount of waste, which ultimately hurts the national wealth.
According to the infographic, as much as $486 million worth of bread goes to waste each year in Turkey. In more detailed illustrations, the infographic showed that the sum lost could have paid the monthly wages of 1.4 million minimum wage workers; paid for the construction of 191 primary schools with 24 classrooms, 954 sports facilities or 84 hospitals with a capacity of 100 beds; covered the monthly school expenditures of 10 million students or the marriage expenses of 17,885 couples.
Despite these figures however, a rather old-yet-rooted analysis published in 2013 sponsored by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) proves that flaws in the supply chain of the Turkish food sector deserve much more criticism than consumers, the demand side, when it comes to the reasons why food products fail to reach the final user.
According to the FAO report, losses and waste are defined according to where they occur in the food value chain. While countries with an advanced agricultural industry also have consumer waste, countries such as Turkey underperform in the early phases of the chain, such as production, postharvest handling and storage.
Nearly 1.3 billion tons, or one-third of all food produced around the globe for human use, is lost or wasted every year, according to the FAO. This accounts for some $1 trillion in losses each year, far more than Turkey’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014.
The FAO report ranks commodity groups according to their contribution to the country’s agricultural production as follows: cereals, roots and tubers, oilseeds and pulses, fruits and vegetables, meat, fish and seafood, milk and eggs. While it indicates that the ratio of waste or loss of fruits and vegetables in household consumption is 4 percent, the ratio is 20 percent at the production level, 8 percent at the post-harvest handling and storage level, 10 percent at the processing and packaging stage and 10 percent at the point of distribution. The same figures for cereal products were 5 percent, 5.1 percent, 4 percent, 2 percent and 1 percent.
The cost of food loss and waste in Turkey is said by some sector representatives to hover at around $85 billion per year, an amount that could bankroll the construction of 33,405 primary schools or 14,691 hospitals. Turkey currently has 28,532 primary schools registered with the Ministry of Education. The same amount would provide 18,710 families of four with a daily wage to afford minimum food support for a year.
According to the Turkish Public Workers’ Labor Union (Kamu-Sen), a family of four must spend TL 35, or $12.20, per day in order to afford sufficient and healthy food. The most optimistic statistics given by Cevdet Yılmaz, former development minister and current deputy prime minister, suggest that the number of people who live on a daily income of $4.30 or below in Turkey is 1.4 million, However, the corresponding number surges to as much as 15-17 million in the estimations of opposition figures and consumer unions.
“The main reason for such losses and waste in the country is the lack of any long-term planning that could fix our structural problems. You can also list the use of conventional production methods and fragmented agricultural lands as being among the possible causes for food waste and losses on the producers’ side,” Turhan Çakar, chairman of the Consumer Rights Association (THD), remarked.
The FAO report also lists traditional methods of irrigation, the lack of cooperation in the supply chain and unqualified and uneducated agricultural workers as the possible causes.
As young people in rural areas often tend to migrate to metropolitan areas, agricultural production is generally undertaken by older farmers who traditionally do not keep up with innovations and thus engage in production practices learned from past generations, the report said, highlighting that older people are slow to adopt and practice new technologies.
“Like it or not we are living in a free market economy. Waste and losses lead to lower supply and prices will go up, as can be seen today,” Çakar added.
In spite of continued decline in global commodity prices according to FAO statistics, food prices in Turkey have long been following an upward trend.
“But annual hikes in the salaries of employees are set depending on the overall inflation rate, which mostly falls behind food inflation,” Çakar underlined, adding that the hunger threshold is instead set according to price developments in the food market.
‘Money Detective’ points to conventionality to flag agro yields
Best known for his popular TV program “Para Dedektifi” (Money Detective), in which he tries to shed light on the long journey of agricultural products starting from soil and ending on market shelves, journalist Cem Seymen underlined that the main reason for loss and waste in food production is the use of traditional methods through all phases of the supply chain.
Speaking specifically for fresh fruits and vegetables in an emailed note to Sunday’s Zaman, Seymen said Turkey comes in forth in volume of fruit and vegetable production, but the country also ranks among the top when it comes to loss and waste in this sub-category.
“It is hard to find credible information in the agricultural sector, but it is for sure that the amount of loss and waste makes up more than 20 percent of total production,” Seymen said.
A slight touch by an unqualified daily wage earner handling agro products could sometimes leave fruits squeezed, strained and having lost their original shape, Seymen further noted, adding that consumers then opt not to buy such products, which in the end adds to losses.
Even consumers lead to considerable waste by touching products on market shelves before purchasing them, Seymen stated.
According to him, the cost of waste and loss in fresh fruits and vegetables accounts for between $1.7 billion and $5.5 billion a year.
Highlighting that conventional methods are widespread in harvesting, storage, transportation and sales, he added that the immediate solution for the problem is to abandon such practices.