FoodCloud was delighted to be invited to talk about women, food systems and tech at Sidero’s International Women’s Day 2023 lunch in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society. Here’s what our public affairs and stakeholder manager Angela Ruttledge talked about
Our broken food systems and the need for a more circular economy
In his book, the Closing Circle, Barry Commoner, an American biologist who is described as the father of modern ecology, argued that environmental rights were inseparable from social justice issues, such as poverty, racism and women’s rights. As we snowball through Covid, Ukraine, ecosystem breakdown and hurtle towards climate catastrophe, the accuracy of his assertion is crystal clear.
Commoner also argued that ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’, by which he meant:
‘Ecological problems and environmental degradation are not free-floating phenomena, but are firmly built into the operation of the economic system. They represent a debt to nature, a mortgage incurred by productive operations, which – now that it must be repaid – is going to cost someone something….When we speak of environmental pollution as a “debt to nature,” it is well to ask who benefits from the debt and who has to pay it.’
Our food systems are responsible for 34% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (Nature Food Study 2021). It is the second-biggest contributor to climate change after the energy industry and the single biggest contributor to biodiversity loss, deforestation, drought, freshwater pollution and the collapse of aquatic wildlife. Of that 34% of global GHGs, it is now estimated that 10% are related to food waste (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation).
40% of all food produced worldwide is wasted each year (Driven to Waste: Global Food Loss on Farms, WWF and Tesco, 2021). The Irish Environmental Protection Agency’s latest food waste statistics provide that 770,000 tonnes of food was wasted in 2020. (This figure does not include food that is ‘lost’ before it reaches the farm gate.)
The United Nations 2021 State of Food Security and Nutrition Report states that the number of people affected by hunger is as many as 828 million people. According to the World Food Programme, as of now, 349 million people in 79 countries are acutely food insecure.
In Ireland, the Department of Social Protection Working Group on Food Poverty Report 2021 found more than 1 in 11 people are now experiencing food poverty. 75% of FoodCloud’s charities are experiencing an increase in demand for food.
Our food systems are broken. Obviously, technological advances in food production have had enormous benefits, making possible greater yields, storage, transport and labour saving. But some advances are responsible for some of the worst food systems related effects of environmental damage and climate change.
Rachel Carson, the original environmental heroine and thought leader
A contemporary of Commoner, Rachel Carson, scientist, conservationist and author of Silent Spring, which was published in 1962, described the harmful effects of pesticides like DDT, a deadly persistent organic pollutant, now banned from use on crops, which she contended should be called a ‘biocide’. Her book is credited with launching the environmental movement. Carson wrote,
‘Nature has introduced great variety into the landscape, but man has displayed a passion for simplifying it. Thus he undoes the built-in checks and balances by which nature holds the species within bounds.’
Now we look to technology to fix our broken food systems
FoodCloud Co-founders Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien quickly realised the power of technology to scale up a local solution to connect those with food surplus with communities that could use it.
At FoodCloud our vision is for a world where no good food goes to waste and we are tackling the twin issues of food waste and food insecurity. We partner with retailers, food companies, non-profit organisations, government and the wider business community, to redistribute surplus food and help drive progress towards a circular economy for our food systems. FoodCloud has created two food redistribution solutions to tackle the twin issues of food waste and food insecurity. We have food hubs in Dublin, Cork and Galway to coordinate donation and redistribution of larger volumes of surplus food, as well as a tech platform, Foodiverse, whereby we can reach surplus food and the charities that need them in every corner of Ireland and in fact we operate across four markets — Ireland, the UK, Czech Republic and Slovakia. By the end of 2022 we had redistributed 201.3 million meals equivalent saving over 84,000 tonnes of food and 270,000 tonnes of Co2-equivalent has been avoided.
Gender equity, food systems and our work in Africa
Gender equity is one of the four levers of change identified by the UN Food Systems Summit because ‘a fairer, more gender-equal system is one that is best placed to decisively end hunger, poverty and inequality around the world’, and this is particularly so in developing countries including those in Africa.
Across Africa, an estimated 140 million people faced catastrophic levels of food insecurity in 2022 (Global Report on Food Crises 2022 Mid-Year Update). This is due to conflicts, successive crop failures (as a result of extreme weather events and climate change), pre-existing and COVID-19 related economic shocks and soaring fuel and food prices.
Enough food is wasted in Africa each year to feed at least 3 million people. In a continent where so many people are starving, and many more, particularly children and women, are undernourished, it is unconscionable to lose and waste food at this scale. Reducing food loss and waste could be one of the leading strategies for Africa, and globally, for achieving a sustainable food future.
Food Banks in Africa are on the front lines of the dramatic increase in the need for food. The traditional food banking model utilises multiple warehouses and vehicle fleets to transport and store food and redistribute it onward. Building this physical infrastructure requires significant capital investment which is generally beyond the reach of early-stage non-profits in Africa.
In partnership with the Global Foodbanking Network (GFN) we are one of the first recipients of the Irish Aid Enterprise Fund for International Climate Action. This funding will support a pilot study of our technology-led solution to food waste in Africa, which we believe could allow for a more streamlined food bank operating model, reducing the requirement for capital investment and deliver an easily scalable model for rescuing more food, reducing GHGs and feeding more people.
Our colleagues Maud Raggonaud and Keisha Taylor-Wesselink have just returned from Kenya, from where they reported that most of the people working in the food banks there, as well as most of the managers of agencies receiving the surplus food were women. With support from Irish Aid, FoodCloud is introducing technology to women there to drive food redistribution.