Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ramadan ~ Feasting, Fasting ... and Wasting

Ramadan is celebrated as a month of piety, meditation, abstinence and sobriety yet Ramadan in Morocco is also the month in which the phenomenon of food waste explodes 

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) we consume an average of 20 kg of food per person per year. Also, according to statisticians, food waste accounts for between 95 to 115 kg per person per year in Europe and North America, while it is lower in Africa and Asia with an average of 6-11 kg - except during Ramadan when the numbers skyrocket.

Mohammed Aman is an ecologist and environmentalist based in Bahrain and is a specialist on waste statistics among Muslim communities. His findings show that Moroccans throw out more than 40% of dishes every single day of Ramadan. Another statistic shows that the amount of bread alone thrown out is equivalent to 10% of Moroccan cereal imports.

"People tend to purchase three times the amount of food they actually can consume for  Iftar (Ramadan breakfast); There are six types of cooked food on the tables of Muslims during Iftar, in three times the amounts needed. This results in 40% of food being wasted every day" ~ Mohammed Aman.

There is a cost to this as people tend to prepared dishes that are more expensive than usual.  Add into this the high prices that occur during Ramadan and you understand the reason that  many households take out loans to buy food - food that they do not actually need.

During Ramadan some products have their prices double or even triple. This can be explained either by the increase in demand, or scarcity of certain products such as dates this year. In addition, some shopkeepers simply raise the price during Ramadan. This is the case of vegetable and cooking oils.

The reason for this over purchasing and under consumption does not appear to be gluttony, but rather the social pressure to provide feasts for family and friends. There is an element of pride involved which unfortunately results in wastage.

The economist Rachid Maaroufi estimates that of the 4.1 billion loaves of bread eaten during Ramadan, 120 million are thrown out. He points the finger at the government, claiming that the  eradication of informal markets has exacerbated the problem. Local markets, he says, are more effective in supply as they are directly in touch with demand. He also notes that a lack of control of the chain in cold rooms has resulted in large quantities of produce perishing quickly.

However, Maaroufi does not shy away from blaming the consumer "We can not speak of waste without mentioning the responsibility of the citizens who does not have a culture of rational consumption" he says.

Unsurprisingly, the amount of waste is higher in wealthier communities with more upscale neighborhoods throwing out as much as 70% of the food they purchased.

Bouazza Kherrati, President of the Moroccan Federation consumer rights (FMDC), says that the general public is not aware of this waste and there is enough food in the waste bins to feed an impoverished African country.

For the last two years the Moroccan Federation of Consumer Rights has campaigned against over consumption during Ramadan. This year the government also launched a number of awareness campaigns in the media and the mosques on the same subject.  Sadly consumers do not appear to have been listening.

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