Food waste in Addis Ababa

Last changed: 18 February 2022
Street view of Addis Abeba. Photo.
Addis Ababa. Photo: Moti Abebe / Unsplashed

A little seed funding goes a long way! This project, led by Associate Professor Assem Abu Hatab at SLU, started with an application to SLU Urban Futures seed funding and resulted in a collaboration project in Addis Ababa looking at determinants of food waste amongst urban dwellers.

Rapid urbanization places huge pressures on the food system, requiring evermore resources to feed a growing population; and the food system in turn through increased consumption poses significant environmental, social and economic challenges for urban areas. Ensuring equal access to food, whilst minimizing the detrimental effects of food waste is a complex problem that requires multiple interventions. This cross-disciplinary project led by Dr. Abu Hatab at the Department for Economics, SLU, aims to understand the determinants of food waste in the Ethiopian capital to inform the design of policy interventions that have food security and environmental change at its heart.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: where the food system meets rapid urbanisation

Addis Ababa is the capital and largest city in Ethiopia, and one of the most rapidly growing economic and political centres in Africa. The city is home to around 40% of the total urban population in Ethiopia and is expected to continue to grow. Rapid urbanization will bring significant land use changes, increase pressures on the food system, and exacerbate poverty and food insecurity challenges. Recent government estimates show that food insecurity is a pressing issue in Ethiopia, with nearly 15% of children under five years of age being chronically undernourished, and 13% and 18% of women and men, respectively, being underweight. In tandem with urban sprawl, rising incomes and rural-urban migration, Addis Ababa has been experiencing a surge in urban food demand and increased food waste generation at the consumer level, which contributes at least 60–70% to the total waste generated in the city. Growing levels of consumer food waste therefore represents one of the most challenging environmental issues for the local authorities of Addis Ababa.

Fitting food waste fit into the complex puzzle of sustainable food systems transformation

Like many other low-income countries, food waste in Ethiopia is closely linked to sustainability from two interrelated angles: food security and environmental change. It is a stainability challenge that requires cross-disciplinary investigation because it rests at the intersection of many challenges posed by poverty and inequality, natural-resource degradation, climatic and environmental changes, and population growth and associated demographic changes. The UN 2030 Agenda recognizes the links between reducing food loss and waste and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 12 which sets a target of halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030 and reducing losses along production and supply chains.  

Dr. Abu Hatab and his research team at SLU and Kotebe Metropolitan University (KMU) designed this study to address the gaps in existing research investigating how food waste fits into the complex equation of food systems transformation. They noticed in particular that determinants of food waste in the context of developing countries as well as policy options to reduce it are still under-researched. Crucially, existing knowledge and quantitative assessments of food waste in developing countries are insufficient to inform policymakers and to support interventions and actions on reducing urban food waste. Central to the study is understanding the role of cognitive, emotional and behavioural aspects that influence consumers’ food waste behaviour. The project emphasises that understanding and then changing consumer behaviour through relevant interventions is a crucial step towards reducing food waste and promoting a sustainable management of food chains.

Designing effective food waste interventions rests upon understanding more than individual consumer behaviour

The findings of the project have important implications for how we understand food waste. Firstly, food waste is the outcome of the interaction of multiple behaviours relating to psychological and socio-demographic characteristics of consumers as well as consumers’ environmental and institutional contexts. In particular, the research found that accounting for psychological factors as well as consumers’ skills, abilities and food purchasing routines can improve our understanding of factors that influence the food waste behaviour of consumers. The evidence has important policy implications for designing more effective interventions to reduce consumer food waste in developing countries. The results show that strategies addressing food waste should include behavioural changing interventions, which have a potential for reducing food waste levels. In particular, accounting for consumer attitudes towards interventions in ways that can enhance their knowledge and understanding of the adverse consequences of food waste can help consumers comprehend that they have both the responsibility and ability to reduce household-level food waste.

To influence sustainable food system change, the project highlights that policy interventions should be implemented at the community level to nurture a culture of sustainability and resource conservation. In particular, interventions for reducing household food waste should be more comprehensive so that they not only focus on consumers but also on other actors along the food chain, including food retailers who influence the food purchasing decisions of consumers through advertisements, marketing, packaging and special offers, and subsequently influence their food waste behaviour. Crucially, municipalities and policymakers should engage food retailers and companies in designing and implementing interventions aiming at reducing food waste and changing consumer behaviour.

Seed funding: Small money, big outcomes

Dr. Abu Hatab’s project started with an application to SLU Urban Futures seed funding. Although only a small sum of money, he believes that seed funding is critical for investigators just starting out on new cross-disciplinary research ventures. He says:

“People may ask does a SEK 50.000 grant really make a difference? According to my own experience, yes, it does!”

He explains that larger research-funding agencies, particularly in development research, expect a reasonable chance that the research will be successful, and thus, they tend to finance research projects that investigate questions for which the applicants have established networks with research partners and have some preliminary data and results. Therefore, in order to convince funding agencies that a research idea has merit, one must have some connections and data. Dr. Abu Hatab considers seed funding as the first step in going after the big bucks!

What next for the research project?

The project team have completed all the project activities including the research, networking and dissemination tasks. The main empirical results were published in the form of a peer-reviewed journal article and were presented in a stakeholder workshop organized in Addis Ababa in 2021. Presently, the research team is planning to initiate a grant-proposal writing process with the aim to submit proposals to the upcoming calls of the Swedish research councils focusing on some interesting research questions that arose from the empirical results of this project!

The article can be accessed here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921344921006819

Link to Assem Abu Hatab on SLU web 

Facts:

Food & Cities is a collaboration between SLU Future Food and SLU Urban Futures. The project communicates SLU’s existing research and aims to create new encounters between different disciplines and sectors. The project seeks to identify knowledge gaps and cross-disciplinary research questions and investigates how a long-term thematic focus on food and citiescould be established at SLU.