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Food Waste Around the World, Episode 41: Iran

Food Waste Around the World is a Food Circle project to provide information and raise awareness about food waste. The project is designed as a series of interviews with students from different countries to understand how this issue is tackled and perceived around the world. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the globe, creating a uniquely multicultural environment.

Today we speak with Majid!

But first, some context

UN Targets and official strategy

According to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12, Iran is committed to these targets:

  1. By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.

  2. By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling, and reuse.

  3. By 2030, ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature.

As a UN member Iran is committed to these targets, but the reality is quite political and will not be explored further in this article.

(UNEP 2021) The current recommended strategy for Iran is categorized as level 3. In this group of level 3 countries the strategy consists of:

  • Gathering information and disaggregation of problems within the food system

  • Supporting development of food waste prevention strategy

The first step is to reliably gather and measure data across different regions. Once this is in place, effective strategies to make reductions can be concluded and steps can be taken to meet the goals of 2030.

To progress by the guidelines laid out by the UN, Iran must directly measure food waste in way that is sufficiently accurate for tracking over time. They must produce primary resources, such as reports, that document the food waste measured each year.

Waste Report and Statistics

According to the UN Food waste Index Report 2021:

Iran produces:

  • 5 884 842 tonnes / year

  • With each individual producing 71kg / year

However it has to be said that these predictions are made with "very low confidence"

This is because they are "based on extrapolation from other countries". The statistics are produced to only "provide approximate information that may be useful to inform food waste prevention strategies".


Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk to our guest!

Can you please briefly introduce yourself?

Well, my name is Majid. I'm from Iran and I was born and grew up in Tehran; the capital city of Iran.

I'm an agricultural engineer that majored in plant protection (for my bachelor's degree). I have worked in some companies that were producing and importing fertilizer and pesticides. I worked in roles mainly covering marketing, and sales. I'm also a graded consultant with a business license accredited by Agricultural and Natural Resources Engineering Organization in Iran.

Concerning my recent experience, before coming to Europe, I worked for two or three years in the field of biological control. Also organic non-chemical plant nutrition and also organic farming, organic fertilizer for seven years. I needed to improve my knowledge regarding the business, the commercial side of knowledge. I decided to come to Europe for studying in master's degree of entrepreneurship & management.

Recently, I completed the master's program in Business Engineering majoring in Entrepreneurship and management. Currently, I'm working on my master's thesis. I'm writing about digital marketing in the sustainable development of agricultural business and learning about the business feasibility and implementing digital marketing strategies.

I'm also a member of the EIT Climate-KIC Program as a climate innovation leader. And also I'm a volunteer for a climate reality project.

So can you help give some background about the attitude to food waste and sustainability in Iran?

It’s a bit difficult to explain because there are confusing statistics about it. As you might know, there's a lot of talk concerning the Paris Agreement and the Iranian government's choice to not be a part of it.

About the environment, the situation is very complicated about sustainable development in Iran. However, researchers, universities and institutions, are working a lot but there are many barriers.

According to a recent researches and researcher articles that I read, around 20 million tonnes per year of food is wasted in Iran. This is 30% of the the food in Iran being wasted.

I think it's mostly about the industry and also restaurants and hospitality. The problem though is that there is no exact statistics. Based on my experience and what I've seen, problems about production process for example in the farms we have more waste because the equipment is not developed. Also in agricultural sector and it's supply chain.

Tools and types of equipment are so important in the agricultural sector for reducing food loss. For example, the most important sector is the agricultural sector is producing the vegetables that they are daily product and also another branches of agricultural product like gardens and fruit trees which they are strategic products to export.

Moreover, the economic index is very important and also has a direct effect on this issue. That’s a challenge that government can find ways to improve SDGs index and economic indexes.

I think they can achieve their goals, but when we are talking about the economy also improving the index in the economy, sustainability comes second. It seems the priority is about exporting oil and gas more for selling in the market. It's a bit of a challenge also for me because I'm not expert in this area.

Okay. Can you tell me about the attitude of of individuals? What have you noticed when you've spoken to people, is food waste an issue they're conscious about?

The routine life of the Iranian people has not a lot of food waste. They don't produce a lot of waste in house.

But there are still problems. For example plastic packaging is very common. This kind of waste is more than food, especially plastic, because of packaging and packaging is not sustainable yet. There is still, a lot of companies that didn't change their package because of cost. They must pay more for that in unstable inflation rate especially in the bad economic situation they experienced. So when they are thinking for changing package or something like that they have to increase their cost. and it is unlikely for the clients. There are real financial compromises that companies must make, to change things.

Food waste is connected with other waste problems. It requires changes within the production industry. Economic decisions or financial decisions for those businesses make it cheaper to waste plastic, it's cheaper to waste food and it increases profit for the company. And it's about figuring out smart ways to change this.

I asked you what can we learn from the Iranian people? Are there any values, habits or recipes we could adopt?

About recipes, there are several interesting kinds of food in the different provinces. Here are my favourites:

  1. Fesenjan (Persian Walnut Pomegranate Stew)

  2. Tahdig (Crispy Rice)

  3. Persian stuffed grape leave (Per: Dolmeh barge-mo)

About the attitudes, it's hard to comment generally about the whole country because there are many ethnicities and cultures that are living in Iran. But according to my travelling to other provinces are also and what I found, the people generally aren't wasting much.

It's a common value and lifestyle to not be wasteful. The next generation are taught that shouldn't waste food anymore. I have seen many people that they don't throw away the remain food in the dish. They use that food in another meal and they keep in the cool place like refrigerator or something like that and after two or three hours they reheated and use for the next meal.

It's common for families if food isn't fit with consumption they are feeding the homeless cats and dogs which are in the street, home, in front of office. This is their habit and I have seen similar situation.

So, do you know of any significant organizations tackling food waste?

There are lots of companies and organisations tackling the environmental challenges, especially plastic recycling and water treatment.

And yeah, but I'm sure there is a some kind of companies that are working on it. It depends on the city! For e