Waste Not, Want Not: Why the Rockefeller Foundation Is So Interested in Food Loss

Currently, some 1.2 billion people around the world are hungry or undernourished, and that number is expected to grow to at least 2 billion by 2050. Yet according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the world grows enough food to feed most of these hungry people. So why is food insecurity still an unrelenting and incessant global problem? 

Well, one reason is because a shockingly large amount of food produced worldwide never makes it to people's plates. It’s estimated that around one-third of food is wasted or lost to spoilage. There are a lot of factors at play here, including inadequate storage and transport techniques, premature harvesting, and crop blight. In developing countries, many losses occur within agricultural systems, after harvest. So it's not surprising that this problem is on the radar of the Rockefeller Foundation—one of the premier funders historically concerned with boosting agricultural gains in poor countries.  

What people may find surprising, though, is just how focused Rockefeller is on food loss. Recently, it announced the launch of YieldWise, a $130 million global initiative to reduce the world’s food loss by at least 50 percent by 2030. To start, the foundation is focusing on reducing the loss of fruits, vegetables and staple crops in Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania. It’s estimated that all three countries suffer around 50 percent food loss. That's right: Half of all food produced in some of Africa's most populous countries never gets consumed. 

Given that alarming statistic, you'd think a great many funders would be fixated on food loss. Not so. While Rockefeller has long been beating this drum, food loss has mostly languished on the backburner in development circles, failing to gain attention or funding traction. We can't think of many other foundations that are giving at a significant level in this space. 

Related: Postharvest Food Losses Are Still a Big Deal. Which is Why Rockefeller is on the Case

Rockefeller’s $130 million YieldWise announcement brought much-needed attention to the problem, as the foundation made the big reveal at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. And the topic caught the attention of attendees at the U.N.'s global climate conference last year, since producing all that uneaten food releases several billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. 

Business groups are now paying more attention. This makes sense, as food loss equals lost profits. According to Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, “Here, we have been pushing against an open door.”

The foundation's strategy for addressing food loss has several parts, including working with farmers, but also the producers of food storage and handling equipment. Global businesses comprise another set of partners. And while the foundation will initially focus on Africa, it's also interested in reducing food waste in the U.S. and Europe amid a broad rise in funder interest in food in recent years.