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Rachel Ramsey | Waste not, want not: Reducing food loss and waste in the Caribbean

Published:Thursday | September 28, 2023 | 12:06 AM
Rachel Ramsey
Rachel Ramsey

IN THE Caribbean, we have all heard the saying ‘Better belly buss than good food waste’, which highlights that as a people, we value our food and would go to extremes to minimise wasting it. However, recent regional statistics indicate that we waste approximately 223 kg of food per person per year, which accounts for two per cent of all food produced across the globe.

When we think of food loss and waste, we may think of the kitchen scraps from peelings or the tail end of a meal we left uneaten. But the issue of food loss and waste is more complex than meets the eye. With the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste taking place on September 29, let us break down how the Caribbean can improve its food and water security, as well as its citizens’ health, by reducing waste.


Food loss occurs mostly between the harvesting of produce and the consumers receiving the goods. A large proportion of produce that is harvested does not make it to our markets or stores because they are bruised during picking, eaten by pests, degraded by disease, no longer up to cosmetic standards, or sometimes they are simply dropped or discarded during fishing operations, and spilled or wasted during processing.


Food waste happens when food fit for our consumption is wasted and discarded. This includes the food that is sorted out and discarded due to substandard quality, past its ‘sell-by date’, has damaged packaging, or food that is purchased but not consumed.


In the Caribbean, food loss and waste is mostly attributed to poor infrastructure and organised value chains. At the consumer level it tends to occur during production, handling, storage, processing, and distribution. Understandably, we have regional conditions, such as our tropical climate, remote location of farms and fisheries and transport infrastructure challenges, which contribute to the rate at which produce may perish. However, due to the current and projected impacts of food loss and waste, along with the increasing demand for food production with our growing population, the concerns surrounding food loss and waste are a substantial priority, not just regionally, but internationally.

Globally, over 1.3 billion tonnes of food produced remain unconsumed, while one in every 10 people remains undernourished. In addition to humanitarian concerns, economic losses associated with food loss and waste amount to approximately US$940 billion globally, and increases environmental pressures, such as the depletion of our global water footprint, land use, and substantial emissions of greenhouse gases. To this end, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are helping to guide global policymaking, and SDG 12 calls specifically for us to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”. One of the targets within SDG 12 sets a goal of halving the per capita global food waste at both retail and consumer levels, while reducing food losses along production and supply chains.


The Caribbean Biodiversity Fund (CBF) has been actively developing its Nature-Based Economies Programme, where the principles of the circular economy are being explored to address waste issues such as those associated with food loss and waste. This is a two-fold issue that relies on improving our agricultural sector, moving towards regenerative food production – where we grow food in ways that benefits nature, such as healthy and stable soils, improve local biodiversity, improve air and water quality – and making stakeholders throughout the supply chain aware of the sustainable opportunities available to them.

We are all familiar with the proverb ‘Waste not, want not’ and in this context, we need to consider day-to-day practices that we can all enact. At the household level, we need to encourage systems such as smart shopping – it’s as simple as using a list or meal planning to ensure we get what we need, improve our storage practices to ensure the longevity of our produce and food, and maximise on our resources by composting food waste. For restaurants, introducing strategies to closely monitor and manage food usage based on the current state and not only on the demand of the menu at hand. Likewise, retailers can focus on improving food management, including handling, storage, transport, preservation, as well as streamlining production to actual demand needs, and educating customers and workers on these optimal food management techniques. We can all ‘shop local’ to reduce transport time and decrease food loss from local small businesses.

Farmers and fishers can contribute by harvesting at the optimal time, giving consideration to the factors that contribute to the produce perishing, and using appropriate tools or equipment to prevent bycatch. Distributors, processors and manufacturers can adopt innovative technology to improve packing, storage, preservation techniques, improving product size and design to minimise waste. At the policy level, we have issues such as fair trade, liability regarding food donations, and improved food labelling practices that need to be considered. Action at every level can have a compounding effect on limiting food loss and waste. As the CBF identifies opportunities to leverage waste streams into circular economy systems, concerted action is being taken to improve our water and food security – and you, too, can have an impact!

Rachel Ramsey is the programme manager, Advancing Circular Economy Facility, Caribbean Biodiversity Fund. Send feedback to