Hunger is the most important problem the world consistently faces on a day-to-day basis. Yet while the Internet continues to expand its role in connecting our planet, it has still fallen short of making one important connection: hungry people with food that is wasted. Commissioner Radzi Mansor calls attention to the need to use the Internet for the world’s biggest problem.

Using The Internet To Feed People

by | Mar 13, 2017 | Insight |

Since the early 90s, when the Internet first became known to many people, it has integrated itself into the daily lives of almost everyone, and its use continues to expand.  Machine to machine communications is in full force, and the Internet of things is now here, promising many new services.  Early offerings of refrigerators that used RFID and scanning capabilities to determine when food was too old or when new supplies should be ordered failed, primarily because they were too costly to solve a problem that was easier to solve manually.  The Internet of things and advances in RFID technology may soon make the smart refrigerator a reality in many homes.  All these advances are exciting to contemplate and early adopters of technology will vie with each other to be the first to have some of these “gee whiz” gadgets.  

There is another segment of the world’s population that isn’t concerned with a refrigerator that can order its own food.  Rather, they’re concerned with just finding enough food to sustain life.  According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, each year 7,665,000 people die from hunger, and 945,000,000 people do not have enough to eat.1  Most of these people don’t use the Internet regularly, and may not even be aware of its existence.  But why can’t we who know how to use it make it work to help feed these people?   According to a 2011 report by the Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations titled, Global Food Losses and Food Waste, “Roughly one-third of the edible parts of food produced for human consumption, gets lost or wasted globally, which is about 1.3 billion ton per year.”2  The report lists various causes of loss and waste, as well as proposing corresponding preventative steps.  One recommendation is to link small farmers directly to buyers – something the Internet certainly can do – but it has the potential to do so much more.  

“..tracking food and delivering it before it spoils, determining when surplus exists … and identifying unused shipping capacity … are all well within our current technical capabilities”

A 2015 report from the BBC puts the magnitude of the problem of this waste into perspective in terms of other impacts it has.  “The environmental impact of all this wasted food is enormous. The amount of land needed to grow all the food wasted in the world each year would be the size of Mexico. The water used to irrigate wasted crops would be enough for the daily needs of nine million people. And wasted production contributes 10% to the greenhouse gas emissions of developed countries.”3

Another report cites the lack of technology and infrastructure as the main cause of food waste in Africa, as opposed to household food waste in the developed world.4  “An estimated 25 percent of the world’s food calories and up to 50 percent of total food weight are lost or wasted before they can be consumed.  In rich countries most of that waste occurs in homes, restaurants, or supermarkets. In poor countries food is often lost between the farmer and the market, due to unreliable storage and transportation.”5

If we can design refrigerators to manage one family’s food needs, why can’t we use the Internet to manage the food needs of vast groups of people?  Things such as tracking food and delivering it before it spoils, determining when surplus exists in one place and routing it to those in need quickly, and identifying unused shipping capacity and filling it with food that could be used to feed starving people are all well within our current technical capabilities, but are not being exploited to the extent that is needed.  But what if we chartered a group of people to explore additional ways to use technology to feed people?  The report cited is five years old, and the authors of that report couldn’t have known of the technical advances the past years have brought about.  Their proposed solutions were applicable for that time, but surely today’s technology climate offers solutions unimagined back then.  We will, and should, continue to expand the use of the Internet to implement new capabilities, but why not turn some attention to using it to provide for the basic needs of those who don’t have enough to eat?  Utilizing this wasted food to feed those in need will certainly require additional money for logistics to deliver the food, but the Internet can help reduce that cost as well.  Let us dedicate ourselves to using our technology for the betterment of all people.



Commissioner Radzi Mansor

Commissioner Radzi Mansor is the former Chairman of Telekom Malaysia. He has served as a director on the boards of more than twenty public companies, including those in the food industry . . . Read More