The UAE’s food service market, which is the second biggest sector in the country’s economy, is worth USD 11.3 billion. In 2016, the UAE recorded food sales worth USD 329 billion. Due to rising consumer base, increase in income and hospitality sector growth, food consumption is set to grow by 25%, hitting 59.2 million tonnes by 2025.
Considering the above findings, food imports will triple over the next decade given the country’s heavy import reliance to meet 80% of its consumption needs. To secure food supplies amid increasing demand, the UAE Government plans to further invest into developing farmland in other countries due limited supply of fertile land and fresh water, but does the solution of feeding people lies in growing or importing more food? Or, with nearly one-third of $3.5bn worth of food mobilized within the UAE thrashed, Governments should work towards regulating the food logistics sector through a consultative approach with businesses to reduce food wastage – a key target of UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? Sustainable Development Goals 12 Target 3 food loss and wasteAgricultural pollution results in massive degradation of ecosystem, land and environment and it further lends to decreasing the ability of our natural resource base to supply food.
Nearly 30% of the world’s total energy consumption and 22% of total Greenhouse Gas emissions is accounted to Global food and agriculture industry. Whether we blame consumerism or capitalism, growing demand for natural resources has resulted in substantial and largely irreversible loss in diversity of life on Earth. Agricultural and food production affects four planetary systems: climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen). What are these boundaries? The Planetary Boundaries framework outlines planetary-level limits of natural resources or life forms that must be maintained for Earth to function as a uniquely habitable place for humans. If human society exploits the finite resources, thereby crossing the boundaries of the essential life support systems, it would lead to catastrophic environmental change. However, if human society, can control the life supporting systems from crossing their threshold, humanity can continue develop and thrive for generations.
Today, concentration of greenhouse gases has surpassed the safe zone of 350 parts per million, resulting in high temperatures increasing sea levels, crippling droughts and floods, and other climate woes. Moreover, we have already lost 16% of the biodiversity in many regions of the planet, more than the “safe” level of about 10%.
In 2015, the United Nations announced the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. At the heart of ‘Agenda 2030’ are 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that clearly defines the targets that needs to be achieved for people’s well-being while protecting the environment by 2030. The programme mandates Governments of 193-member states to align its objectives, activities and targets towards achieving 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), both nationally and internationally. One of the 17 goals set in 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to ‘Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns’. It calls for the entire global community operating in the life sustenance supply chain, including business, consumers, policy makers, researchers, scientists, retailers, media, and development cooperation agencies to:
- Adopt a systematic and collaborative approach towards increasing social welfare gains economic activities
- Providing access to basic services while reducing degradation of vital resources such as water, energy and food along the whole lifecycle.
One of the 11 targets outlined in the Goal 12, is to “halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030”.
According to industry experts, while every stakeholder within the food supply chain has a share in the food wastage bill – producers, manufacturers and storage providers – massive amount of food is wasted throughout cold chain operations. On a global level, the International Trade Administration reported $750 billion in losses in the food industry due to improper facilities and mistakes in cold chain logistics. Due to lack of proper refrigerated transport and adequate high quality cold storage facilities, India wastes 40% all harvested agricultural produce costs India over $14 billion – that is more fruits and vegetables than the entire United Kingdom consumes and more grain than Australia produces each year. Studies have shown harmonizing laws, regulations, and food waste control practices during the supplier-retailer interface remain central to the reducing food loss.
Governance Gap in the UAE
The top source of food wastage in the UAE is left over or discarded food in restaurants (32%), followed by extra food cooked for celebrations that gets thrown away (30%). With nearly 3.27 million tonnes of food wasted every year while on wheels, food manufacturers and logistics providers should duly bear the responsibility for the remaining share (38%). This equates to filling 136,250 trucks. With a truck load of food worth an average Dh100,000, the annual cost of food waste in the UAE is a staggering Dh13.6 billion. Clearly, cold chain mistakes can be costly. With the UAE boasting most advanced road network and infrastructure in the region, where are the shortcomings that lead to compromising the quality of food? To answer this question, let’s first look at what regulations have been put in place to effectively monitor cold chain logistics and minimize wastage?
Currently, municipalities have strict quality control measures and audits put in place at point of entry (ports) and at restaurants. However, there are no legislative measures put in place on regulating the movement of food on roads, from the ports, borders or farms to end consumers. According to Food Control Department in Dubai, food contamination is traced to the hotels or restaurant but there is never an attempt to see how it was transported or what happened before.One would question ethical compliance by businesses. Indeed, multinational food companies such as Bidvest Group and BRF, follow global standards of food handling and implement international measures locally. However, with multiple parties involved food supply chain is complex. Shared responsibility concept doesn’t exist here. Retailers have no financial obligation as the cost of wasted products is passed on to the manufacturers or producers. Government interventions and regulation thus ensures every business part of the value chain operates on the premise of benefitting to society. Such an approach would also help UAE Government enhance food security in the country – absolutely vital for social and economic development. According to a survey, 22% said they were either waiting for the SDGs to be ratified or for government regulation before any commitment.
In the UAE, industry leaders continue to lobby towards the adoption of the Association for Transportation of Perishable food stuffs standards, a UN code used by several countries. Small and medium sized operators may see this push by large businesses to gain distinct competitive advantages and keep competition under control. But what quality standards are they pushing and what impact do these have on the business, society and environment?
From farm to forkIn the UAE, the logistics service sector is somewhat fragmented, like we see in many emerging markets.On one hand, we find well-established food production companies, distributors and logistics operators who operate using brand new fleet, advanced technology and sophisticated transportation networks. On the other hand, we have a number of small and medium sized trucking business that use outdated management methods and old school ways to reduce their operating costs. To reduce CAPEX, most of these third-party logistics providers purchase second hand European reefer trucks that are close to passing useful life, which jeopardizes the reliability of chilling systems during long journeys. In an interview to the The National, a local newspaper, Paul McGarrigie, area manager for Middle East at Thermo King revealed, “Some of these trucks and equipment are 30 to 40 years old and were kicked out of Europe. They were used in Balkan Europe and are not permissible to be used any more…”
According to Dubai Municipality, 90% of food transport vehicles in Dubai comply with regulations. But can we take it as gospel? One of the inspection parameters during vehicle safety checks is recording minimum temperature required to preserve the food throughout cold chain. As per the industry standard, this temperature is -18. Brent Melvin, a supply chain specialist reveals, “It is typical for the reefer engine to be switched on overnight prior to registration, ready for arrival at 8am when the ambient external temperature is in the driver’s favour. It is at this stage that a vehicle receives its certification valid for the whole year.”
Moreover, many drivers replace old tyres for a day to get through the checks.” Besides, the imported reefer trucks are manufactured according to European design and specifications that are congruent with transporting and storing perishable foodstuff within recommended temperature ranges of -30°C to +30°C. This limits their ability to cope up with high temperatures (50°C) as experienced in the Gulf region. Additionally, during long-haul routes between the GCC countries, with multiple border check points where clearance period is seldom shorter than two days, frequent door openings and engine shut down at the stops lead to temperature fluctuations thus affecting the quality of perishable goods.
On an average, nearly 14 times food is moved in and out of fridge across the cold chain before consumption. Keeping perishable food including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats, and fish products in the desired temperature range is must. Any fluctuation is desired refrigeration can stimulate growth of harmful microorganism resulting in food contamination and waste. For frozen goods, -18°C is a minimum temperature requirement, any variation may activate natural enzymes that may lead to deterioration of the food, even though it may still appear frozen. It is worthy to note here, Dubai increasingly records food borne diseases every year.
Intelligent logistics solutions that utilize advanced technology, such as telematics software, can help mitigate the risk of food wastage by 5%, through real-time monitoring. Telematics provide fleet operators with real time data, which include engine and driver performance, temperature deviations during transit, payload condition, door openings, tire pressure, travel time, and route progress. Operators are immediately notified of any irregularities, fluctuations or unexpected events through system notification and even through SMS. With that level of visibility during the transit period, action can be taken immediately and any negative impact on transported good can be avoided then and there.
In the UAE, nearly 20-30 per cent of the food truck needed to be equipped with the telematics technology. Food control authorities and transport regulatory authorities in Abu Dhabi & Dubai are under pressure to get up to speed on several fronts, including random mobile road checks. They are gradually waking up to the advantages of real time technologies but it’s application is yet to be made mandatory. Another way to ensure the integrity of the cold chain is training drivers and providing knowledge on their role and responsibility within the food supply chain. In Europe and Americas, driver training programme are mandatory for food transportation to fulfill Food Safety Modernization Act requirements by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Drivers must attend a training course, pass a test and attend recurrent training every 5 years. These courses aim to train drivers on issues that could impact perishable foods if temperature controls are not carefully monitored. Personal hygiene inspection is conducted on every driver to ensure HSE requirements are met.Certificates issues to each driver is filed as part of the documents required by the FDA during audits. To maintain market positioning and quality control ratings, food manufacturers only opt to work with logistics providers who fully operate under FDA parameters. In the UAE, few well-established fleet operators train drivers to gain a distinctive positioning among their competitors, such as Massar Solutions who certified 90 drivers on completion of a driver skills enhancement programme aimed to ensure efficient supply chain operations.
The SDG implementation isn’t possible without meaningful action taken by businesses and society, and without effective interventions by the Governments. Empowering economic growth through employment, finance, technology and innovation, businesses play an important role in driving a thriving society in a thriving environment. Demand for assessment and accountability towards social and environmental well-being is driving a real change across the business community. Many companies have taken the lead, merging their business goals with sustainable development. Unilever, for example, has found that its sustainable living brands are growing 30% faster than the rest of its business and in 2015 delivered nearly half the company’s total growth.
However, considering the required degree of change due to conflicting interests, businesses can’t act alone. Governments need to adopt a consultative approach towards impact of business activity on the SDGs and work in harmony with business and society towards implementation of solutions and technologies to effect improvement. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US Customs, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) all have requirements related to cold chain logistics. It is matter of harmonizing these measures through practical guidance and education to the business on the benefits they stand to gain through adherence to quality standards.For a fleet operator, maximizing asset utilization is key to minimizing cost and saving millions of dollars annually. Telematics technology has proved to increase fleet productivity, utilisation rates and efficiency thus reducing operating costs by 21%, which in turn increases profitability.
Thorough process of control, correct routing, and management of drivers bring similar benefits for the business – generating commercial value while produces value for society by addressing its challenges. More importantly, sustainability reporting plays an instrumental role in managing change towards a sustainable global economy, clarifying the required level of efforts towards sustainable development and promoting transparency. Every business involve in the food supply chain can be encouraged to report their sustainability performance. Those who demonstrate progress towards controlling their impact on the food wastage can be recognized through rating systems. Such an approach will help Government understand the environmental and social impact of businesses or sectors which will inform their engagement strategies with the business for collaboration on national sustainability efforts.
We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment and we won’t have businesses or governments if society doesn’t exist. Together, we all share responsibility. Tackling food wastage is one giant step forward towards protecting natural resources efficiently and building an inclusive green economy.