Reasearch Awards nomination

Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from Agriculture & Food Security and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research

What economic theory tells us about the impacts of reducing food losses and/or waste: implications for research, policy and practice

Martine M Rutten

Author Affiliations

International Policy Department, LEI Wageningen UR, Alexanderveld 5, 2502, The Hague, LS, Netherlands

Agriculture & Food Security 2013, 2:13  doi:10.1186/2048-7010-2-13

Published: 24 September 2013

Abstract

Background

Whereas the prevalence of hunger and food insecurity is often cited as a motivation for reducing losses and waste in agriculture and food systems, the impacts of such reduction on food security and the wider economy have not yet been investigated. This paper gives insights into these effects, the factors of influence, and derives implications for applied research, policy and practice.

Methods

We used economic theory to analyse the impacts of food loss reductions on the supply side and food waste reductions on the demand side. The analysis is graphical and uses intuitive low-dimension diagrams.

Results

The impacts of tackling food losses and waste differ from the size of food losses and waste and depend, in addition, on the extent to which they are avoidable, factors that cause them to arise (notably food prices) and the costs associated with measures to reduce them. Interactions within the food supply chain and the broader economy also affect the impacts. Trade-offs occur on the demand side where a reallocation of spending on previously wasted foods causes some producers to be worse off and some to be better off. Over time, producers tackling losses may have to incur welfare losses in the short run with gains in terms of increased revenues, if any, occurring later. Similarly, consumers may delay spending savings on previously wasted foods. As a consequence, the impacts, notably on food security and welfare, are ambiguous.

Conclusions

Further research should quantify the factors that play a role and carry out economy-wide impact analyses, employing a combination of macro, meso and micro-level tools, and presenting a comprehensive set of indicators that adequately capture broader societal impacts of tackling food losses and waste. This allows policy makers to better target policy and resources, identify complementary policies, and move beyond target-setting to addressing the underlying causes, whereby it is important to consider the whole food supply chain. Supply chain actors could contribute in terms of practical and innovative solutions where they matter most, and feed research and policy makers on the bottlenecks that explain why food losses and waste occur, and their relative importance.

Keywords:
Economic theory; impacts; food losses; food waste; agriculture and food systems; food security