Climate Change Mitigation

How Food Banks Mitigate Climate Change

For many people around the world, and especially those living in lower- and middle-income countries, the impacts of climate change have become an undeniable reality. Disasters like droughts, floods, earthquakes, and heat waves, are becoming more frequent and intense. These extreme weather events are having significant impacts on our food systems and food security threatening food production, quality, accessibility, and more.

The relationship between food systems and climate change is circular and reciprocal: our food systems can contribute to climate change, too. Approximately one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to food systems, which includes emissions generated by land use, agricultural production, the food supply chain, food waste, and more. This, in turn, worsens climate change and makes it more difficult to grow and access food.

Given that approximately 828 million people are facing hunger today, the impact of climate change on our food systems is a serious and catastrophic threat. However, community-led food banks around the world are addressing both these issues and are a green solution to improving food access while mitigating climate change. Read on to learn some of the ways food banks around the world are innovating to reduce food loss and waste, promote sustainable food systems, and drive high-level climate action.

Reducing Food Loss and Waste

Core to the food banking model is the recovery of wholesome surplus food and direction to those who need it. By recovering food that might have otherwise been lost or wasted, food banks are preventing billions of kilograms of greenhouse gases (GHG) from entering the atmosphere. Here are some unique ways that food banks are recovering surplus food in their communities:

  • Leket Israel recovers surplus produce from an extensive network of over 700 farmers and packhouses. In 2022, the food bank recovered 26,500 tons of fresh produce, with the help of an app they developed where farmers alert Leket when there is surplus produce available for recovery. Climate change is affecting agricultural productivity and harvest patterns, so to refine their food recovery operations and ensure as little food is lost in the fields as possible, Leket is developing a satellite technology software program to identify when agricultural fields are ripe for harvest and plan food recovery efforts accordingly.
  • Bancos de Alimentos de Mexico (BAMX)’s Al Rescate program is a collaboration with over 12 hotel groups and 50 restaurants across Mexico. Since 2014, BAMX has been collecting surplus foods from hospitality buffet lines, and meal service, to name a few. According to the United Nations, 7 percent of all food produced worldwide is wasted at the food service and retail levels. By capturing surplus prepared foods, BAMX has not only provided nearly 250,000 wholesome meals but prevented significant GHG emissions.

Supporting Local Food Systems

The most resilient food systems are rooted in local contexts, environments, and communities. Many food banks are working to create sustainable food systems by sourcing and distributing locally grown food. Small-scale farmers often rely on traditional farming practices that promote conservation and biodiversity, and by partnering with them to secure food, food banks support the local food economy. What’s more, greenhouse gases are mitigated by reducing the distance that food travels to get to people who most need it.

  • Food Banking Kenya works closely with many farmers across the region, recovering donated food from growers and purchasing surplus produce from small-scale farmers. Because these farmers may face difficulties accessing markets and forecasting supply and demand, the food bank’s investment helps them sustain their livelihoods. And that’s not all—Food Banking Kenya also coordinates trainings so farmers can exchange best practices, increase productivity, and build resilience of the local farming communities, especially in the face of climate change.
  • Lagos Food Bank Initiative’s Family Farming program aims to boost local food security and encourage sustainable food production, particularly among women. Since Lagos, Nigeria, only produces 3 percent of the food it needs, household gardens and small urban farms are essential to increasing food security, especially during Nigeria’s dry season between December and February. The food bank teaches participants how to grow a variety of local crops and raise chicken and snails—and some even sell the food they produce to earn an income for their families.

Driving Awareness and Climate Action

Because the food banking model is uniquely positioned to address food waste and climate change, food banks can leverage their partnerships to mitigate climate change systemically. By engaging individuals, companies, and policymakers to adopt policies and make commitments to reduce food waste, food banks are helping to create a more sustainable and climate-resilient future. While food banking can help the world get back on track with our climate and hunger goals, it will take cooperation from all stakeholders to achieve progress.

  • Scholars of Sustenance Thailand’s ZERO Summit was the first food-driven sustainability event to engage food industry leaders, government officials, and NGOs to alleviate food waste and hunger in Thailand. Through panel discussions and interactive demonstrations, stakeholders from the private and public sectors convened to accelerate progress toward food waste mitigation and Zero Hunger.
  • FareShare UK advocates for the government to adopt better laws and policies to reduce food waste and increase investment in the food banking model. In September 2021, they launched a national #FoodOnPlates campaign to urge the government to invest £5 million pounds per year to significantly incentivize food donation by farmers and producers. And in the run-up to the COP26 climate conference, FareShare published new data highlighting the hidden carbon and water costs of food waste, demonstrating how food systems and climate solutions are intertwined and reinforcing the role of food banking in mitigating climate change.

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing the world today and will continue to affect food systems and livelihoods around the world. Now more than ever before, it is critical to recognize the role food banks play in mitigating food loss and waste and alleviating hunger.

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