In T&T, approximately 100,000 people or 7.4 per cent of the population is undernourished.
These figures were given by UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) representative Dr Lystra Fletcher-Paul at the July 21 launch of Nourish TT, an NGO created to eliminate food waste and help those in need.
Food security expert Fletcher-Paul said Latin America and the Caribbean wastes 78 million tonnes of food annually; this amounts to six per cent of the food produced globally. She also reminded the gathering that T&T was recently ranked among the world's highest producers of solid waste.
"The FAO estimates that in T&T if we were to reduce the food losses at the retail level, we would have enough food to reduce, by 50 per cent, the undernourished people in the country. By extension, if we reduce losses and waste from all other sources, we would have enough food to feed all the undernourished people in this country and so make a significant contribution towards eliminating hunger and food insecurity," said Fletcher-Paul.
This is where an NGO like Nourish TT comes in.
Nourish TT was set up just over a year ago by former banker Krista Santos. Santos said she's always been careful about not wasting food and the catalyst for starting Nourish TT was when she observed serious food wastage by a local retailer. She was bothered by what she believed was "throwing away perfectly good food".
"We founded Nourish TT because we believe there are two interlinked problems in this country–hunger and food waste," Santos said. "By addressing one, we can alleviate the other."
She then worked on the Nourish TT pitch and successfully presented it to some of the people who now make up the NGO's eight-member board.
Nourish TT's work takes place on the company's website which has a private portal through which food donors and charity partners can securely log in to the system.
Retailers, food distributors and manufacturers post available food to the portal, noting the "best before" date of each product. Donations are automatically shared with all Nourish TT's partner charities. However, the donor names are not revealed to charities, and food donors cannot view each other's donations.
Orders are secured by charities ordering on the portal on a first-come, first-served basis, and once the charities have ordered what they need, donations are collected by Nourish and delivered to the charities.
In a video shown at the launch, Massy Stores CEO Derek Winford said, "We're always looking for ways to cut down food waste, so when Nourish approached us, we were intrigued to learn more.
"Since we've been involved, we realised that the system does work and we can eliminate waste in our stores. There's no reason why, in time, it can't be done across other sectors of the food industry," Winford said.
Massy Stores backstore supervisor Giselle Jeffrey said the supermarket usually gives food to charities in their locale, but the Nourish TT website now enables a wider distribution for food.
"They [Nourish TT] provide a new outlet for us to give food to charities, not just nearby but all across the country. And what's great about it is that it's done behind a screen on the shop floor."
Winford added, "We're very proud to be involved and pioneering the drive to reduce food waste."
The Living Water Community is one of the charities to benefit from Nourish.
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Co-founder Rhonda Maingot said, "We feed poor people all day, every day. In many of our ministries, we have 24/7 homes and also like in Duncan Street (Duncan Street Caring Centre/Ave Maria Caring Centre), we feed 150 people every day–breakfast and lunch. ... So Nourish coming in at this time, especially at this time of recession, has really been a tremendous help to us."
Maingot also praised the convenience of the distribution system set up by Nourish.
"I remember in the old days when restaurants wanted to give us the food that was left over, we'd have to go there in the middle of the night but through technology, it's so amazing. Everything is on the website, we go in, see what they have to offer, make arrangements and the food is delivered. It's absolutely amazing. Thank God for Nourish."
Santos told the T&T Guardian that so far Nourish TT has never received food that cannot be eaten. The stuff is always in date and fit for consumption. Nourish distributes approximately 2,500 meals per week.
Fletcher-Paul said there is too much food available for people to still be hungry or undernourished in T&T.
She pointed to the high national poverty level of 28.8 per cent and expressed the fear that it can even get higher as more people are put on the breadline during this economic downturn.
THe UN representative commended the team behind Nourish TT for its drive and vision. She said such organisations are important to sustaining food security.
"Through their innovative use of technology and in partnership with the private sector and civil society, they are already making an impact by reducing hunger and undernourishment in this country.
"They are also contributing to UN Sustainable Development Goals which speak to health and well being by providing healthy, nutritious food to people who may not normally have a meal for the day."
For more information visit www.nourishtt.com
Food waste and poverty in the Caribbean
Between 2014 and 2016, the number of undernourished people in the Caribbean was estimated to be about 7.5 million.
T&T is one of four countries in the region where less than 10 per cent of the population is undernourished. The others are Dominica, Bahamas, Belize and Jamaica. With undernourishment levels of below five per cent, Barbados, Guyana and St Vincent have successfully met the two main global hunger targets set by the World Food Summit 1996 and the Millinieum Development Goals in 2000.
Unsurprisingly, the Caribbean nation with the highest level of undernourishment is Haiti with 53.4 per cent.
Lystra Fletcher-Paul said overconsumption is also a contributor to food wastage.
She said it is estimated that globally 1.3 billion tonnes or roughly a third of the food produced for human consumption is either lost or wasted annually.
"Losses may occur all along the value chain during production, harvesting, handling, storage and processing, while food wastage occurs when we throw away food that is still edible at wholesale and retail sales, in prepared food services and at the consumer level."
The food security expert said it is also estimated that 28 per cent of food losses in the region occurs in the consumer segment; 28 per cent in the production segment; 17 per cent in marketing and distribution; 22 per cent in handling and storage and six per cent during processing. This, she says, represents a tremendous loss of time, labour, capital, energy and income.