Coronavirus: pandemic has sharpened focus on reducing food waste, says UAE minister

Minister of State for Food Security says the UAE wastes an average of 197kg per person each year

One of the few bright spots of the pandemic is it has highlighted the issue of food waste, a UAE Cabinet minister said.

For the second year running, iftar and suhoor buffets have been cancelled by authorities to prevent large gatherings.

UAE hoteliers said this week the Covid-19 safety restrictions would put greater focus on delivering "quality over quantity" during Ramadan.

Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of State for Food Security, told The National the restrictions would sharpen the focus on the amount of food being wasted.

With Ramadan a time for reflection and contemplation, we should all use this opportunity to think about the value of food

Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of State for Food Security

“The seemingly never-ending pandemic is having a positive outcome in that it is shining a spotlight on the incredible amount of food we throw away,” Ms Al Mheiri said.

“With iftar buffets being curtailed this year, the UAE is successfully reducing the amount of food it throws away during Ramadan.”

The minister said the UAE wastes an average of 197kg per person each year, with Ramadan iftars being a major contributory factor.

“Ramadan iftars contribute significantly to this waste; their buffet nature leaving vast quantities of food unconsumed at the end of each evening,” she said.

Has Covid-19 changed habits?

Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of State for Food Security, said the UAE wastes an average of 197kg per person each year with Ramadan iftars playing a large role in reaching that figure
Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of State for Food Security, said the UAE wasted an average of 197kg per person each year with Ramadan iftars playing a large role in reaching that figure

Ms Al Mheiri said the general public’s awareness of food waste was evolving, with people becoming more mindful of the waste they are producing.

“The pandemic has also changed attitudes towards food waste more generally, with people becoming more responsible in their shopping and consumption habits,” she said.

“Consumer research has found that UAE households have been increasingly buying only what they need and saving what they don’t finish.

“A rise in online grocery shopping has been a significant contributor to this trend, with studies finding that customers are using this medium to shop more conservatively.”

Ms Al Mheiri said it was important that people should not return to old habits.

“The challenge is to keep this momentum going, as there is also some evidence that consumers are starting to slip back into pre-pandemic wasteful habits, as lockdown restrictions start to ease.

“With Ramadan a time for reflection and contemplation, we should all use this opportunity to think about the value of food, and to make a personal concerted effort to reduce the amount of food we throw away.”

Ms Al Mheiri estimated that if only one-quarter of the food that is typically wasted was saved it could feed about 870 million people worldwide.

The staggering numbers around global food waste

The World Food Programme said up to one-third of the food produced globally is either wasted or lost with an equivalent financial value of $1.3 trillion each year.

Mageed Yahia, director of the programme's UAE office, said to tackle waste people must first recognise the challenges in producing food in the first place.

“People need to understand how food is produced. For many of us it’s a simple case of going to the supermarket to choose what we want,” he said.

“That’s not the whole story though. It’s actually quite a complex process from growing the food to taking into account factors like irrigation, distribution, transport and safety.

“A lot of the time small farmers can’t sell everything they produce and don’t have the storage to hold on to the food until they can, and a lot of it is lost.”

He said this was particularly a problem in West Asia and North Africa where up to 250kg of food is wasted per person each year.

Ramadan in the UAE - in pictures

Updated: April 20, 2021 08:40 AM

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