Message from the Director General

Think, eat, and save on World Environment Day 2013

5 June 2013
Kathmandu, Nepal

Today, stories of climate change, glaciers melting, landslides, and water scarcity overload our everyday lives. The stories of environmental degradation are so overwhelming that there is a sense that we cannot really do anything about it. Yet, there are many things that each of us can do, and one that we might not think about so much is the consequences of our food habits.

This message became clear to me some years ago when working as a water specialist trying to find ways to conserve water resources. Rough calculations on the amount of water it takes to grow food are mind boggling. Depending on production practices, about 2 to 5 thousand litres (2 to 5 tonnes!) of water used to grow rice or wheat is converted from fresh liquid water to water vapour, and around 15,000 litres are used for a single kilogram of grain-fed beef. On average, a vegetarian diet requires about 2,000 litres per day and a meat-eating diet about 5,000 litres to produce the food. And the more we eat, the more water it takes. 

On top of this, there is a staggering amount of food loss and waste as food moves from the farmer’s field to our dinner table – waste in storage, transport, marketing, and, shamefully, how much food we throw away from our dinner tables and kitchens. Some estimates say that we waste about one third of our food globally. Not only does this waste add unnecessarily to existing pressure on water resources, there are additional environmental costs including pressure on land resources and increased emission of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming and glacier melt.

So the message is simple, take care of what you eat and what you waste, and you can make a difference. 

This year’s World Environment Day gives all of us the opportunity to rethink our food choices and explore options of how to save resources and prevent food wastage. World Environment Day, run by UNEP since 1973 aims to raise awareness of the need to take positive environmental action. It is about our active role in protecting the environment. This year’s theme of Think.Eat.Save aims to globally reduce our foodprint through an anti-food waste and food loss campaign. A reduction in food waste and losses can lead to a better environment.

However, the story of overconsumption and wastage is actually targeted to an urbanized, wealthier world. In fact, the story is quite different for many people living in rural areas in the Hindu Kush Himalayas where food security is a daily struggle. People do take care of the available food, and wastage is minimal. However, even in this situation where food is precious, losses occur in storage and transport – both areas where different approaches can help.

ICIMOD supports value chain development and rural livelihoods, particularly among farmers, by promoting high-value products and introducing innovative technologies to increase water and agricultural productivity. Through value chain development, opportunities to add value to local products through processing, branding, and packaging are explored and shared and potential markets are identified. Improved storage, transport, and marketing, and ways to reduce food loss will also be considered as a part of this process. ICIMOD wants to use this opportunity to remind people about the value of the work that farmers do: they produce our food. We can support them through our choices and habits by following sustainable lifestyles.  

ICIMOD also does considerable work documenting environmental problems in the HKH and finding solutions. Many solutions lie outside the mountains, especially in how the habits of growing urban and wealthier populations impact mountain environments through climate change and pollution. We need to tell people what is happening to mountains, and how their choices make a difference. The complexity of this topic requires interdisciplinary approaches across different levels extending to transnational scales. The regulatory national level is as important as the community itself, but starting inside the family is the first powerful step to tackle food waste.

Education is by far the most important access point to environmental action. Schools, media, and events such as ICIMOD’s Green Solutions Fair in 2012 can offer a platform for people to discover simple technologies to make use of their waste. Composting organic waste reduces the waste burden and provides nutrients to plants on rooftops or in the garden. Waste transformed into biogas can even supply households with energy for cooking or other needs. All offices also should review their ways of handling organic waste. 

ICIMOD is celebrating World Environment Day this year with many activities, but the Centre is starting by looking into its own backyard – and at our own food footprint. We hope that this day will inspire people across the region to be more mindful of their food choices, home food management, and ecological implications of their consumption in order to decrease pressures on resources and the poor. Start at lunch today! Many of us take the food supply for granted, so for this year’s World Environment Day rediscover the important meaning of farming and the essential role that farmers play in society.

Best wishes for a Happy World Environment Day.

David Molden