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Experts say that throwing away food can make the climate crisis worse

Experts say that throwing away food can make the climate crisis worse

You worsen the climate crisis by throwing away food, experts say

A young boy collects the carrot waste from Mau Narok [Kisang Joseph, Standard]

Letoo Kamangu is furious at the sight of his failed vegetable gardens despite the clear skies above Oloibortoto village, Kajiado County. 

He cannot accurately predict weather patterns. “When I was growing up, we could easily predict the weather. Now it is hard to tell what will happen to our crops and animals,” says the 80-year-old. 

“The ancestors are angry,” he says, unable to comprehend global warming, the crisis that the annual UN-led climate change talks hope to tackle. The last climate meeting (COP26) held by parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC) was held in Glasgow Scotland, early in this month. 

Meeting in hotels

Kamangu, however, says that this is just talk and no action. “For how long will people be meeting in big hotels in cities when we are suffering? We need to repent so that everything gets back to normal again,” he says. 

Kamangu is both a victim and an sceptic. Researchers say combating climate change in the face of denial and scepticism is an arduous task. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says by mid-century, a billion people will face water and food shortage.

Head of Climate Finance and Green Economy at the National Treasury Peter Odhengo rues the lack of climate understanding. “Climate scepticism is fuelled by the business community that thinks transition to a green economy will be expensive. Go to rich economies and you’ll find oil barons fixed on their profit making trajectories,” he says.

Drought, drought, floods, high diseases burden, crop failures, unpredictable rains, and land degradation are some of the most critical environmental challenges facing more than 250 million people in 100 countries. 

But in the wake of these climate shocks, there is a twist. Every banana, grain of wheat, leaves of sukuma wiki, a bean or a cob of maize you throw away leads to global warming.

This is because the food system contributes a third to total greenhouse gas emissions, but two-thirds are lost from farm and table. Food losses that occur at pre-harvest, post-harvest or during agro-processing lead to emissions, but don’t contribute to food security or nutrition.

UNEP and the Waste Resources Action Programme (Wass) for 2021 have reported that Kenyans waste an average of 99kgs each year. The country also wastes 5.2 tonnes of food annually. This, researchers say, is a drawback to the climate war.  

Food bank

A recently launched national food bank initiative has helped farmers in 47 counties to be more efficient and reduce wastage. They can also make better use of their surplus harvests by donating to charity or better storage. Food Banking Kenya (FBK) ‘rescues’ food that would have otherwise gone to waste. The founders of the programme claim that, in addition to conservation, they are motivated by the need stop hunger and waste by closing the gap between the food surplus that would be wasted and the need to distribute the edible surplus to those who need it. 

In 17 countries, more than 4 million people need food assistance. According to the Drought Management Authority Kajiado is among those most affected by the debilitating drought.

Covid-19 has exacerbated the severity of the situation, causing President Uhuru Kenyatta on September 8 to declare drought a national catastrophe. This could lead to economic and social strains.

FBK conducts anti-food waste campaigns that target not only farmers, but also manufacturers, exporters, producers, and retailers. It began with a school feeding program in November 2013. However, it has expanded to include waste reduction through innovative production methods and harvesting.

“We’ve partnered with farms, traders and pack houses. Since the drive started, we have rescued more than 400,000kg of fruits and vegetables,” said FBK chief executive John Gathungu. 

After being rescued, the farm produce is collected and sorted before being distributed to the needy. The group has storage facilities and supplements them with dry goods like wheat flour, maize flour, sugar, and rice from well-wishers prior to distribution. “We feed children’s homes, groups for the elderly, rescue centres and people living with disabilities. We have adopted 34 children’s homes and feed 2,695 children daily out of rescued food and from well-wishers,” says Mr Gathungu.

Gathungu says that in order to stop food loss, local communities must be educated on responsible buying, preparation, consumption, storage, and disposal. Last week, FBK officials conducted outreach in Lari County, Kiambu County. They educated farmers. 

Relax rules

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They have held similar visits to Kajiado, Murang’a, Nakuru, Nyandarua and in Nairobi’s Githogoro, Soweto, Kayole, Dandora, Saika and Kariobangi. They conducted an emergency outreach to Turkana last month. 

“For these efforts to pay off, the State should relax rules on standards of aesthetic requirement for fruits and vegetables, besides promoting redistribution of surplus and providing tax incentives to entities that donate food. This will reduce wastage,” he adds. 

While response has been impressive, Gathungu says: “It is vital to invest in training, technology and innovation in food waste management.”

The team believes that if people change their attitudes, food wastage that contributes to methane emission from landfills can be contained, such as the ones in Dandora.

FBK has corporate and individual donors, including Biersdolf, Chandarana Supermarket, and the Global Food Banking Network.

It’s not all doom. Kenya is among the first countries to have developed a national climate smart agriculture strategy in 2017. It raised $250 million (roughly Sh28 billion) to help 33 counties’ farmers. 

“As at today, under the Financing Locally Led Climate Actions (Flloca) in the 47 counties, supporting smart agriculture is at the core of new climate programmes. Today, 36 counties have passed their climate change acts and policies,” Mr Odhengo told The Standard yesterday.

“Green Champions under Greening Kenya Trust is creating awareness at the village levels. A lot is being done now, but more time and additional resources are still needed,” he added.

Environmental lawyer Odete Oyieko says climate change is a cause-multiplier, thanks to the unpredictable trends. “Farmers have a role in reducing Kenya’s carbon footprint. This can only be achieved by reducing pollution, conserving energy and promoting environmental consciousness,” says Mr Odete.  

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