Food Waste Around the World is a Food Circle’s project aimed at providing information and raising awareness about food waste. The project is designed as a series of interviews with students coming from different countries with the aim of understanding 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 world creating a unique multicultural environment.
Today we speak with Ilaha from Azerbaijan!
“Food losses - which occur during the production, harvest, post-harvest and processing phase - are most important in developing countries due to poor infrastructure, low technological levels and low investments in food production systems.”
Hi Ilaha, welcome to the interview and thank you for participating in the project Food Waste Around the world. To start, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I'm Ilaha Aliyeva, I'm from Azerbaijan, and I was born in Ganja, the second-largest city of Azerbaijan. I studied Turkish language and literature at Baku State University. Later I studied a master’s degree in Social Exclusion at Åbo Akademi University.
That’s great! Can you tell me a little bit about your perception and the scale of the food waste issue in Azerbaijan? Is it a big issue?
I think if we talk about Azerbaijan, we need to distinguish the issues of food loss and food waste. Food losses - which occur during the production, harvest, post-harvest and processing phase - are most important in developing countries due to poor infrastructure, low technological levels and low investments in food production systems.
I think that for Azerbaijan, our food waste is related to poor infrastructure. In developing countries, including Azerbaijan, the processing is our main problem. It's not about how er overconsume food, but about how much we produce. In developing countries, around 40% of food losses are due to poor processing systems. On the other hand, food waste is more of a problem in industrialized countries, mostly caused by both retailers and consumers throwing edible food in the trash.
What interesting research. Thank you for taking the time to learn and share more with us. So, can you notice any differences that you see in your country compared to the Netherlands?
I think the first difference is the infrastructure, as I mentioned before. The Netherlands suffers fewer food losses each year than Azerbaijan. Besides, I think the more important difference surrounds awareness.
For Azerbaijan, I don't think we're well informed about food waste or environmental issues. For example, the government just put recycling bins on the streets and in public places, but people don't know why we should separate our garbage and throw our garbage in the necessary trash bins like paper, metal, and paper. They are not very aware of this problem and do not know how dangerous paper, metal and plastics are for our nature and our environment. If they knew, they could follow these guidelines accordingly. So I think the main difference is that the Dutch are much more aware of the environmental impact of food waste, but unfortunately we are not as aware of the situation in Azerbaijan.
In my opinion, the other difference is seen in daily life. And I think that's a positive side of Azerbaijan. I was just looking and found that food waste is very high in everyday life in the Netherlands, but compared to Azerbaijani consumerism, the waste is not so high. As I mentioned before, we have food losses in the production process, compared to the Netherlands but we do not have a large amount of food waste. For example, according to a report by the Alliance for Food Security, people in Azerbaijan only consume 47 kg of food as opposed to 80 kg worldwide. In addition, Azerbaijanis only consume 27.8 kg per year, while the world consumes 70 kg. On the other hand, food waste is one of the main problems in the Netherlands. It is stated that about a third of the total food produced goes into the trash. Consumers are the biggest culprit with 42 percent of waste. Every consumer throws away 41 kilograms of food a year.
Do you think those issues are handled by the government more or do you have any non-governmental organizations that bring awareness to this situation?
Well, unfortunately, most of the measures are taken by the government. I would like it to be more about NGOs or more about private organizations. I checked but I could only find one app. It is a free app called OLIO. It's a food sharing mobile app that connects communities and local food shops that have surplus food available.
The app encourages more of us to share our extra and unwanted food with others who live near to us. But I saw that not a lot of people use the app, and not a lot of people are interested in this kind of activity. Those kinds of apps do not operate that well in Azerbaijan, so they just shut down after a short period.
On top of that, a lot of activities for food waste are not very relevant. We don't have many NGOs, we don't have many small communities. There are only some international organizations. For example, one is by the FAO. So I saw that most of our measures for food waste are taken by the United Nations in my country.
Are you aware of any specific initiatives that address food waste?
I found one useful initiative in Azerbaijan. It's a waste management initiative by FAO. I like the content there because it shows that most of the food waste in Azerbaijan is linked to weddings which I think is completely true. The traditional wedding in Azerbaijan has more than 500 people and many varieties of dishes. I don't know why we even try to serve that many food options because nobody is going to eat them all. But they are just made available for the sake of our guests at our weddings, in our ceremonies and at our weddings party. Even our government reclaimed that most of the waste in our country is related to weddings. Also, the head of this waste management project said that they want to control this situation and change their policies or the food waste is going to be worse. I think it's a great idea and I approve of this management project. Hopefully, we can cut down on food waste at our weddings.
And do you think the government will do more in the future? And do you think that food waste is a priority on their agenda? What do you think about this?
I don't think that it is one of the main issues in our government's agenda. I recently listened to the annual assembly of our president and a few of their meetings but I never heard a conversation about food
waste. They talk about water shortage and about other social issues but not about food waste. Unfortunately, I don't think it's our priority, and it won't be in the next couple of years. But I know for a fact that eventually, it will be a point of concern because in the last five years, there has been a water shortage and our agriculture is heavily affected by this; especially since the situation worsens every year. Hopefully, they can think about prioritizing this.
Finally, do you think these issues could be taken with steps from the different organizations? Do you think it needs to come from the communities, or from the government?
That's a good question. I think as I mentioned before, we are not aware of the problems so that's why I think we should take a bottom-up approach. First and foremost, for that, we need to have more private organizations, state organizations, volunteering programs for food waste, and more NGOs. And then, if they could collaborate to take action together it would be so much better. It can be really good for both raising awareness and the implementation of measures. The government could make food-waste related decisions, and NGOs or private organizations could help implement them through actions and social engagement.
Perfect. Okay, that would be it. Thank you very much for participating and sparing your time with us Ilaha!
Thank you for having me!
Interviewer: Ceyda Gezbic
Interviewed: Ilaha Aliyeva
Editor and writer: Ceyda Gezbic
Organizations mentioned in the interview: