[RC's Statement] on World Environment Day 2013

For four decades now, since its establishment in 1972, the World Environment Day has grown to become one of the main vehicles through which the United Nations promotes worldwide awareness of the challenges facing the environment.

These include global warming and climate change, land degradation, biodiversity loss and environmental ecosystem management. It is also a day for people from all walks of life to come together to work towards a cleaner and greener environment for themselves and future generations.

The theme for this year’s World Environment Day celebration is Think. Eat. Save. Reduce Your Foodprint. This is a campaign against food waste and food loss.  It encourages all of us to do our best to reduce our foodprint.

Food waste is a growing global concern. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), every year 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted the food production and consumption systems. This is equivalent to the same amount produced in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, 1 in every 7 people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger (FAO).

It is also reported that at least a third of everything we grow on this planet is lost between the field and the consumer. It is an ethical, economic and environmental issue given the enormous waste of energy, water, fertilizers and other inputs as a result of food that is produced but never eaten. 

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) states that the global food production occupies 25% of all habitable land and is responsible for 80% of deforestation. It is also responsible for 70% of fresh water consumption and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions.

So when food is wasted then all of these valuable resource inputs are also lost.There are indeed serious environmental implications to wasting food. Just think about all the energy, water and packaging used in food production, transportation and storage. This all goes to waste when we throw away perfectly good food.  Vast amounts of food waste goes to landfills which make significant contribution to greenhouse gases through emission of methane.

In his message to mark the day, the UN Secretary-General, Ban ki-Moon says that food waste is “foremost an affront to the hungry, but it also represents a massive environmental cost in terms of energy, land and water.” He goes on to say that:  “By reducing food waste, we can save money and resources, minimize environmental impacts and, most importantly, move towards a world where everyone has enough to eat.”

Reducing our food print also means reducing emissions throughout the food supply chain. If we consider any of our typical favourite meal, we should think about what it takes to get it ready for our tables.  How much electricity or diesel was use to pump the required irrigation water how much diesel as used to till the land? How much energy is consumed in cooking that delicious meal?  This is not saying we should not eat.  What we are saying is that we should eat what we need to keep our health, but should avoid wasting any food. Wasting food is simply unethical, un-economical and simply bad for the sustainability of our environment. 

In our countries, food waste and losses also occur mainly at the early stages of the food value chain and can be traced back to financial, managerial and technical constraints in harvesting techniques, as well as cooling facilities.

Therefore the strengthening of the supply chain through support to farmers and investments in infrastructure, transportation as well as expansion in food and packaging industry could help to reduce the amount of food loss and waste.

At consumption level, simple steps such as smart shopping, understanding expiration dates and requesting for only the portion that you are able to consume at restaurants could go a long way in minimizing your foodprint. Compositing food scraps can also reduce climate impact while also recycling nutrients.

There is also a lot that we can learn from traditional communities about food preservation and storage. Some African communities for example, protect harvested cereals by mixing the ash from the fireplace with water and sprinkling on the cereals.  This prevents insects from destroying the crop. Our challenge, which is also an opportunity, is to harness these indigenous and local knowledge systems into wider and affordable applications

Today’s event is the culmination of a week-long series of activities held in Zimbabwe, including a “green bag” discussion on the WED theme held yesterday. This brought together representatives of the government, UN and the private sector to engage on issues of sustainable environmental management. There was also an exhibition showcasing best practices in waste management, organic farming and traditional foods/herbs by various partners.

The climax of the commemoration is today’s event that is organized by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA). I hope you will spare some time to visit the WED exhibition, also hosted by EMA at the Africa Unity Square.

To effectively address all these issues, strong political commitments as well as sound policies are needed.  On behalf of the UN Country Team, I would like to commend   the Government, led by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management, for the leadership that you have provided in ensuring that environmental issue are prioritized in the national development agenda.

Regarding urban solid waste for instance, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), is implementing an integrated waste management strategy focussing prevention, recycling and treatment. Working with community based organizations; the agency is also promoting efficient food processing techniques through the introduction of the solar dryer.

From our side, we want to take the opportunity to reiterate our commitment to continue supporting the Government of Zimbabwe toward achieving its environment-related development goals.  As a cross-cutting issue, environment related actions have been mainstreamed in the various Programs of UN agencies operating in Zimbabwe.  In fact, under the Zimbabwe United Nations Development Framework (ZUNDAF) 2012-2015, a flagship program focussing on climate change mitigation and adoption is being implemented, in collaboration with the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources Management.

In conclusion, allow me again to highlight that the World Environment Day serves as a reminder for action. As individuals, we have an important role to play in promoting environmental sustainability. As we celebrate the World Environment Day, let us remember that this is not a one-day event rather a way of life that we should continue to pursue. Let us begin by acting now on food waste and adopt as many eco-friendly lifestyle choices as you can and make them habits for WED. Think, as you should; Eat as you must; and Save if you can.