With the world’s population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, and with most of this growth taking place in the developing world (more than half of it in Africa), the challenge for governments around the world is, how do we produce enough food for everyone?

The answer, according to the United Nations, is not to produce more food, but to stop wasting so much of what we already have.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that, each year, one-third of all food produced for human consumption in the world (around 1.3 billion tons) is lost or wasted. This includes 45% of all fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, 20% of dairy products and 20% of meat.

Not surprisingly, most of this wastage occurs in the developed world; per capita food waste by consumers (not including the production process) in Europe and North America is around 95-115kg per year, compared to just 6-11kg in sub-Saharan Africa and South/South-East Asia. Large amounts of food is still lost during the production process in developing countries, however, due to lack of infrastructure and poor equipment. Wastage at the consumption stage in these countries, meanwhile, is drastically less than developed nations.

Food loss and waste also has a significant impact on the environment. The carbon footprint of wasted food is estimated at 3.3 gigatonnes. In fact, if food waste were a country, it would rank behind only the US and China for greenhouse gas emissions. The production of wasted food also uses around 1.4 billion hectares of land – 28% of the world’s agricultural area. A huge amount of surface or groundwater – known as “blue water” – is also lost; about 250km3, more than 38 times the blue-water footprint of US households.

So which countries and regions are the worst offenders?

The following table shows per capita food loss and waste, at consumption and pre-consumption stages, in different regions around the world. More information on how the regions are grouped is available here.

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Have you read?
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Author: Ross Chainey, Digital Media Specialist, World Economic Forum

Image: People shop at an open air vegetable and fruit market in Ahmedabad, India, June 12, 2015. REUTERS/Amit Dave