Saudi Arabia Tops Global Food Waste Charts, Confronts SR40B Annual Cost

Chef Laila Fathalla, a prominent advocate for reducing food waste under the United Nations Environment Programme, has disclosed that an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted globally each year.

Chef Laila Fathalla, a prominent advocate for reducing food waste under the United Nations Environment Programme, has disclosed that an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted globally each year.

The gravity of this issue is particularly pronounced in Saudi Arabia, where food waste accounts for a staggering 50 per cent, as affirmed by Abdul Rahman bin Abdul Mohsen Al Fadhli, the Saudi Minister of Environment, Water, and Agriculture. The annual cost of this wastage in the Kingdom has been estimated at SR40 billion, with a food wastage rate surpassing 33 per cent.

Chef Fathalla’s disclosure emphasizes the urgent need for a collective and global effort to address food waste issue and adopt sustainable practices in food consumption and management.

A comprehensive study conducted by the Saudi Grains Organisation (Sago) underscores the severity of the food waste issue in the country. The study, covering all regions of Saudi Arabia, reveals that 4.06 million tonnes of food, equivalent to 33.1 per cent of targeted commodities, are wasted annually. On an individual level, the average contribution to this wastage stands at about 184 kilos per person.

The breakdown of the study highlights alarming figures, including 335,000 tonnes of vegetable waste annually. Specific categories include 38,000 tonnes of zucchini, 201,000 tonnes of potatoes, 82,000 tonnes of cucumbers, 110,000 tonnes of onions, and 234,000 tonnes of tomatoes. Staple foods also face significant losses, with 917,000 tonnes of flour and bread, 557,000 tonnes of rice, and 22,000 tonnes of sheep meat wasted each year.

Losses extend to other meat categories, including 13,000 tonnes of camel meat, 41,000 tonnes of other meats, and a substantial 444,000 tonnes of poultry. Fish waste contributes an additional 69,000 tonnes annually. Date waste alone amounts to 137,000 tonnes, while general fruit losses, including 69,000 tonnes of oranges, 12,000 tonnes of mangoes, and 153,000 tonnes of watermelons, total around 608,000 tonnes.

Saudi Minister Abdul Rahman bin Abdul Mohsen Al Fadhli has acknowledged the gravity of the situation, emphasizing the urgent need for concerted efforts to tackle the food waste issue. He has highlighted the annual cost to the Kingdom, totaling SR40 billion, and the alarming 33 per cent food wastage rate. This acknowledgment underscores the importance of addressing the problem promptly.

The financial impact of food wastage in Saudi Arabia, as indicated by the Sago study, is substantial. The annual cost of SR40.4 billion is calculated based on consumer spending, further emphasizing the economic ramifications of the issue.

Comparatively, Saudi Arabia faces a significant challenge in managing food waste. According to the 2021 Food Sustainability Index (FSI), countries such as Canada, Italy, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands have shown exemplary performance in managing food loss and waste. This highlights the need for Saudi Arabia to adopt effective strategies and best practices from countries with successful food waste management systems.

Chef Laila Fathalla, a leading voice in the fight against food waste, advocates for a collective effort to instill a culture of moderation and waste reduction. She proposes practical measures, including cooking in quantities aligned with a family’s needs, sensible food purchasing to avoid excess, and donating surplus food to those in need.

Additionally, Fathalla advises organizing the refrigerator to ensure that newly bought items are placed behind older ones, preventing the latter from expiring unused.

Saudi Arabia’s struggle with food waste, as disclosed by Chef Laila Fathalla and affirmed by government officials, highlights the need for immediate action.

The economic, environmental, and social implications of such waste demand a comprehensive and collaborative approach. With the government’s acknowledgment of the issue, coupled with Chef Fathalla’s practical recommendations, there is hope for a significant reduction in food waste and its associated costs in the Kingdom.