Think. Eat. Save

Statement by ILO Director-General on the occasion of World Environment Day 2013

Statement | Geneva | 05 June 2013
On this year’s World Environment Day with its focus on food waste and food loss we are confronted with a tragic paradox. Globally over 870 million people are undernourished while 1.3 billion tons of food - fully one third of all food produced – are lost or go to waste.

One contributing factor is wasteful consumption patterns. The amount of food wasted by consumers in rich countries is almost equivalent to the entire net food production of Africa.

But the problem runs deeper and there is a second, even more troubling paradox: those who are most food insecure and hungry are actually food producers: small-scale farmers or landless rural workers who cultivate small plots of land, rear animals or catch fish. One in every three workers in the world – over one billion women and men – is still employed in agriculture.

Economic development and the significant achievements in poverty reduction in the last few decades have often by-passed rural communities. Today, about two thirds of the extremely poor are small-scale farmers and rural workers. At the same time these communities are among the most vulnerable and bear the brunt of the impact of climate change.

Reducing food waste and food loss is a moral, economic and environmental imperative. Producing more food for a growing world population is also a necessity. But without action to secure more inclusive economic growth, these will not be sufficient to end hunger. A primary response must be to increase the returns to labour and generate productive employment for the poor. Action to lift rural populations out of poverty by promoting decent work and sustainable rural enterprises has been targeted as an area of critical importance for the ILO. Such action can also contribute to the goal of reducing food loss, for example, through the use of employment-intensive methods to effect necessary infrastructure improvements and the promotion of cooperative organization which can facilitate improvements in various areas such as storage and transport.

Social protection floors offering basic protection for all provide a buffer ensuring income levels to cover fundamental needs including for food, not least in times of crisis – as in the case of harvest failures, often caused by extreme weather events, which hurt rural and urban poor alike.

Creating better jobs in agriculture, in agricultural value chains and in the rural economy at large is a major opportunity to draw on the synergies between environmental sustainability, economic progress and social inclusion. Sustainable agriculture, with production systems which preserve natural resources and enhance resilience to climate change, coupled with the development of small-scale agricultural enterprises through better technical and entrepreneurial skills, effective social protection for greater resilience in the face of economic shocks and natural disasters, greater access to technology, finance and markets through organization, cooperatives and better functioning value-chains, could be one of the biggest contributions to ending hunger and poverty while also serving the goal of reducing food waste and food loss.

Today, at the International Labour Conference the ILO launches a major discussion on ‘Sustainable development, decent work and green jobs’. Sustainable development demands an active contribution from the world of work and we wish to fully assume our part of the shared responsibility for assuring environmental sustainability and the long-term future of the planet.