Iowa State University Partners on Global Agenda to Reduce Food Waste

Dirk Maier
Dirk Maier

AMES, Iowa — Iowa State University scientists collaborated on a World Resources Institute report, released today, that seeks to reduce the annual 1.3 billion tons of global food loss and waste by 2030.

The report, “Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Setting a Global Action Agenda,” finds momentum to address reducing the enormous amount of food that is lost or wasted each year and proposes a global action agenda to successfully meet the United Nations’ call to halve food loss and waste by 2030.

“The amount of food lost and wasted is staggering. It’s the equivalent of wasting 15 years of Iowa’s corn and soybean harvest each and every year, plus the seed, fertilizer, water, soil, money and labor involved in producing it,” said Dirk Maier, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and director of the newly formed Consortium for Innovation in Post-Harvest Loss and Food Waste Reduction. 

“Our consortium collaborators are working on a number of scalable interventions on the global action agenda. We are tackling post-harvest loss across the mango, tomato and white maize supply chains in Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania by engaging academic and entrepreneurial capacity of the next generation of researchers and students in multi-national, multi-disciplinary teams together with professionals from the private and public sectors,” he said.

Produced by World Resources Institute (WRI) — with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, and in partnership with United Nations Environment Programme, Natural Resources Defense Council, Iowa State University, the University of Maryland’s Ed Snider Center, the Consortium for Innovation in Postharvest Loss and Food Waste Reduction, Wageningen University and Research and the Waste and Resources Action Programme — the report has been released at the World Food Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s designed to guide businesses, governments, civil society, and others in the food system to play an active role in tackling food loss and waste, individually and collectively.  

“There’s more public and private sector activity than ever — with 30 of the world’s largest global companies setting targets to reduce food loss and waste — but we’re still falling short in major areas,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of WRI. “We are amidst a window of opportunity to scale a nascent global movement, and this report gives us a blueprint for the kind of action that’s needed to halve food loss and waste.”

“Addressing food loss and waste is an underappreciated strategy for also promoting economic security, mitigating climate change, addressing hunger, and ensuring more people have the opportunity to eat a diet rich in nutritious food,” said Roy Steiner, managing director, Food Initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation. “We have an opportunity now, across the public and private sectors, to scale up solutions and create meaningful impact for both people and our planet.”

Nearly a third of all food produced in the world goes uneaten each year, an amount that costs the global economy $940 billion and emits 8% of planet-warming greenhouse gases. At the same time, one in nine people is undernourished. Looking across the entire food supply chain, from farm to plate, the report pinpoints prime opportunities for governments and business to reduce such inefficiency and waste.

The three-pronged action agenda advises: 

  • Governments and companies should follow an approach of “Target- Measure-Act:”  Adopt a target to halve food loss and waste by 2030, measure how much and where food is being lost and wasted and take action on the hotspots.
  • All actors in the food supply chain should start pursuing a sector-specific “to-do” list, as outlined in the report. For example, crop farmers could engage their customers to explore changes in quality specifications that can enable more of what is harvested to be sold; packinghouses could build near farm facilities to convert unmarketable crops and by-products into value-added products; and retailers could educate consumers about better food management such as how to store food correctly.
  • Governments and business leaders should pursue 10 “scaling interventions” to accelerate the impact and pace of sector-specific actions. The 10 interventions tackle food loss and waste across the entire supply chain, target a handful of food loss and waste hotspots and help set the enabling policy and financial conditions that are necessary for success. 

“The global action agenda we’re proposing rests on big, bold ideas. I’m happy to say some are already underway, such as a rise in national public-private partnerships and new financing. Others would break fresh ground. We know this is ambitious, but when we look at the amount of food that is lost and wasted, it’s clear that such a massive challenge demands massive action,” said Katie Flanagan, associate with WRI and lead author of the report.

Achieving a 50% reduction in food loss and waste would bring enormous benefits, including closing the gap between food that will be needed to feed everyone in 2050 and food available in 2010 by more than 20%, avoiding the demand to convert an area of natural ecosystems into agricultural land between 2010 and 2050, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2050.

Recognizing the potential benefits, nearly 40 executives from government, business and civil society came together in 2015 to create Champions 12.3, a coalition dedicated to helping the world achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Target 12.3 on food loss and waste. This report is a response to the coalition’s call for global action, and several of the organizations involved in the report’s writing are led by Champions, including WRI, the Rockefeller Foundation, WRAP, NRDC and Wageningen University and Research. 

Read ‘Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Setting a Global Action Agenda’ here:

About World Resources Institute
WRI is a global research organization that spans more than 60 countries, with offices in Brazil, China, Europe, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, the United States and more. Our more than 800 experts and staff work closely with leaders to turn big ideas into action at the nexus of environment, economic opportunity and human well-being. More information at

About the Consortium for Innovation in Post-Harvest Loss and Food Waste Reduction
The Consortium for Innovation in Post-Harvest Loss and Food Waste Reduction is funded by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the Rockefeller Foundation, and member institutions. Through unique public-private partnerships, we advance collaborative thinking and leverage the best global expertise, knowledge, and innovation for the sustainable reduction of post-harvest loss and food waste within the global food system. Member institutions include Iowa State University, USA; University of Maryland, USA; Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands; Zamorano University, Honduras; University of São Paulo, Brazil; Stellenbosch University, South Africa; University of Nairobi, Kenya; Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana; and the Volcani Center, Israel.