To borrow President Obama’s campaign slogan: yes, we can…make a big difference in world hunger, that is.

At a Pack Expo 2008 meeting, about a dozen members (including me) of the International Packaging Press Organization (IPPO) agreed to help raise awareness that packaging can help alleviate starvation around the world. Whenever possible, IPPO members (editors of major packaging publications across the globe) would publish articles to help get the good word out.

I was one step ahead, having already publishedan articleback in August 2007 on this topic. Follow the link to find out howyouspecifically can get involved. It’s easier than you might think.

Now, IPPO president Bo Wallteg and general secretary Carl Olsmats of the World Packaging Organisation (WPO) have written the following article, and I’m pleased to continue the informational and educational campaign.

Packaging is the answer to world hunger
More packaging and the right sort of packaging can help to curb world hunger!

Ever since World War II, global food production has increased faster than population growth, and food prices have remained relatively stable. Now, however, we are seeing a reversal of that trend-and we face a world food shortage. Populations are starving and food prices have risen dramatically. As a result, in many cases there is food but no money, or too much food in some places and too little food in other places.

The current food shortages have emerged quickly and with little warning. As always, several reasons are cited. The rising middle class in Asia and in other emerging markets with bigger purchasing power is one such reason, while another argument is the attractiveness and usage of food raw materials for other purposes such as cattle feed, fuels and materials.

Some even say that the production of bio-plastics (plastics made from renewable raw materials) is prejudicial to food production. Crop failures, climate change, protective tariffs, and poor logistics are other factors that are said to affect global food supplies.

Traditionally, such problems have been addressed by increasing land availability for agricultural use (through deforestation), as well as plant breeding, artificial fertilization, spraying, irrigation and more, to increase yield per hectare. Genetically modified plants are also used, but the issue is controversial and many consumers are skeptical.

Now we face new and bigger challenges that will also require new solutions. Consumers want their food to be as natural as possible, minimizing use of genetically modified plants, pesticides in production and limiting use of sugar and salt as a traditional means of preservation. Further deforestation to create new farmland could negatively affect the environment and the climate.

To cope with food shortages, a sharp increase in food availability is required by 2020, but such an increase need not mean a real increase in production. Large quantities of food are now wasted because of poor logistics, storage and packaging processes, as well as the lack of cold-chain facilities.

In some developing countries, it’s estimated that as much as 50% of all food production is lost because of the scarcity of processing and packaging technology, while in industrialized countries, food is carelessly handled, and between 25% and 50% is discarded because it has passed the ‘best-before’ date.

Moreover, up to 10% of all fruit and vegetables shipped in the EU, worth some 10 billion euros, are destroyed. Enormous resources go into producing and transporting these goods, which are lost partly because lack of adequate packaging.

This is one area where the global packaging industry can make a positive contribution to sustainability and fighting world hunger. The general public and politicians often see packaging as an environmental threat rather than a tool for sustainability. For instance, the usage of a few grams of plastic for packaging is often considered much worse than a kilogram of destroyed tomatoes, although the latter, taking into account all processes in production and logistics, in most cases affects the environment much more than packaging material.

Although there are continuous calls for the use of less packaging, the solution to these problems is perhaps to use more. That means larger numbers of packaging for more uses, but of course combined with a continued packaging weight reduction through better technology and process development for each individual package.

Ensuring that food produced in developing countries is effectively packaged would result in much larger quantities of food reaching the people. By adding adequate packaging, logistics and storage, yet more food could be delivered to those who most need it.

A high proportion of all drinks consumed in the world are unpacked. By packaging larger quantities of drinks, especially in developing countries, vital nutrients could reach more people, and diseases could be reduced through improved hygiene and food safety.

The global packaging industry has provided solutions for many of these problems.

As in any other industry, there are failures, but overall, the packaging industry has worked successfully to optimize packaging solutions over past decades. In the current tough economic climate, with enormous pressure on margins, packaging buyers won’t pay one cent extra for something that isn’t required to protect and promote their products.

While packaging cannot alone fully correct today’s food shortages, it is an essential part of a long-term incremental process that will have to employ a blend of technologies and processes. It’s true to say that the global packaging industry can contribute greatly to increased prosperity and sustainability in the world by ensuring that larger amounts of food reaches more consumers, preserved in a way that results in better quality and smaller losses.

Bo Wallteg, President
International Packaging Press Organization

The International Packaging Press Organization is a friendly association with members all around the world. IPPO members are independent, professional journalists, writing for packaging magazines and e-newsletters.

Carl Olsmats, General Secretary
World Packaging Organisation

The World Packaging Organisation (WPO) is a not-for-profit, non-governmental, international federation of national packaging institutes, regional packaging federations and other interested parties including trade associations.

WPO’s purpose is to serve the global packaging community through packaging associations. The WPO mission is “Better quality of life through better packaging for more people.”