Skopje, 2 October 2019 (MIA) – Official figures show that around 450,000 citizens of North Macedonia live below the poverty line. Yet around 100,000 tons of food goes to waste every year, a problem the civic sector is trying to address.
“We estimate that 100,000 tons of food goes to waste every year. Most of it is agricultural surplus,” says Blazhe Josifovski from Site Siti (Everyone Fed).
The civil organization, together with the state, is trying to tackle food waste by setting up food donations and distributing the food to those who need it most.
“These problems with fruit and vegetable surplus happen every year. For example, 50,000 tons of apples were thrown out last year.
“If you add the 12-20,000 tons of food households throw away; the food restaurants and companies throw away; plus other types of fruits and vegetables, it all amounts to around 100,000 tons of food waste.
“If we had a system designed to use this surplus well, at least 10,000 tons of food could be put back into the supply chain,” Josifovski says.
To make this happen, we need programs to support socially endangered citizens. Coming up with legislative to donate excess food was a good start, according to Josifovski, but a distribution system is necessary as well.
“The law is a good basis for what needs to be built,” Josifovski continues, describing it as a compromise solution.
“It could be more ambitious and more progressive, but there’s a lack of awareness in this country, and a lack of capacities to underpin a more advanced law.
“In a way, we’ve accepted the reality of moving forward using an unobtrusive law as a base to decide what kinds of food are acceptable as donations and what sort of procedures would give tax reliefs to companies.
“So the law is a good start, but the state could and should come up with more ambitious legislation. We hope this happens,” Josifovski says.
He adds that experience and building bigger capacities take time because North Macedonia lacks the resources of more developed countries.
“Site Siti as a solution proves we have great potential,” Josifovski says. “We’re still figuring out how much it would cost to produce various kinds of food through this system, who would benefit from it, and how.
“We will finish the pilot project in November, after which it will take us a couple of months to come up with a draft plan for any future developments. It’s crucial to figure out how to use the food surplus so it can reach as many people as possible as part of nutritious meals.”
Josifovski adds soup kitchens need to be changed, too, to better provide food for impoverished citizens.
“The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy wants to reform this program to include more socially endangered citizens and improve the conditions,” he says.
“People who eat in soup kitchens often travel long distances just to receive one or two meals. They also often lack the means to reach the soup kitchens. For now, these kitchens are available to a limited number of social categories, such as people who do not have health or mobility issues. This needs to change because these people, as well as the elderly who are socially endangered, have limited access to food.”
The idea is to come up with recommendations and a plan for this system to include excess food.
“This could help reduce maintenance costs by increasing the range of users and improving the meals’ nutritional value.
“The money saved would improve services offered to citizens, who could then receive meals at home. At the time being, we have a group of volunteers who take readymade meals directly to people’s homes twice a week. Such services could be provided to citizens in the future if a system were put into place.
“Some citizens are able to cook their own food, so they would receive a month’s worth of products instead of readymade meals. A system should be developed offering different kinds of services for a larger number of citizens.”
Several kinds of systems could be put in place to use the agricultural surplus, according to Josifovski. One such system would involve bigger companies, which would process these products and make meals out of them. Part of these meals could be distributed to citizens, and another part could be sold. The money earned from this would be used to distribute different foods to the citizens who need them.
The new food surplus donation law would regulate and support donations of large quantities of food by farmers, factories, supermarkets, and distributors.
The new law would not concern households, only legal entities, and civil organizations who would be able to donate and distribute food directly to end-users.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy is working on this legislation after the government adopted a proposal to draft a law on food surplus donations this August.
Official statistics show the number of people living under the poverty line in North Macedonia is steadily increasing.
According to the State Statistics Office and the Laeken Indicators, the poverty rate in 2017 was at 22.2%, an increase since 2016, when the poverty rate was at 21.9%.
Tr. by Dragana Knezević
Ed. by Magdalena Reed