National Outlook of Food Waste in Iran

The reports on food waste in Iran are very diverse. The Ministerial statements indicate an average figure of 18.85 percent in agricultural products in 2009. According to the report, the value of wasted agro-products is approximately equal to 25% of national revenue from oil exports in that year. The most wasted products are fruits and orchard products, and fish and seafood are the least wasted products in national level. At the time, a goal was set within the 5-year national development plan’s initiatives to lessen 50 percent of a/m agro-product waste level within the plan horizon. Unfortunately, this goal has not been achieved.

     Instead, the waste has been increasing in the coming years. According to some reports, 35 percent of 100 million tons/yr. of national agricultural production is wasted, which is sufficient to sustain 15 million people   [2,3]. The waste figures are no better (and even in some places worse) than regional and global levels: 30 percent waste in bread, 25-30 (and even 50) percent waste in fruits and vegetables, 10 percent waste in rice, 25 percent waste in date , and so on [4,5,6,7,8,9,10]. Some controversial reports also indicate the economic losses of the tremendous wastes: for instance in January 2015, the research center of Islamic Parliament estimated that the annual waste of bread incurs a 2.857 billion USD(1) cost to the state [11]. Mr.A. Papizadeh, the spokesman of Agricultural Commission in Islamic Parliament urged that the value of food waste in Iran in 2014 has been approximately equal to aggregate figure of staples and agro-products imports of the state in the same year [10]; That is while Islamic Republic of Iran was experiencing the climax of international sanctions and utmost economic pressures throughout 2014. These are entirely in discord with the purposes of resistive economy; and not in compliance with the goals of 5-year national development plan that requires a minimum annual 7 percent growth in added value of ago-products [12].

Exhibit 1 – Percentage of Argo-products waste level in Iran in 2009 [1]

     A profound look may also reveal hidden dimensions of food waste either on supply and consumption sides: wasted food also depletes an immense sum of funds and natural resources that are allocated to sustain and support national food security. Indeed, the state spends billions of dollars of subsidies in terms of low-priced lands, water, agricultural inputs (including and not restricted to seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides), farming equipment, and the supplementary services in the sector. In 2015(IFY 1394), the allocated funds to agriculture includes 681.74 million USD from targeted subsidies act, and another 209.14 million USD for support of agricultural inputs. Also a 1.714 billion USD credit has been allowed in the national budget for construction of infrastructures in the sector [13, 14]. In spite of all these supports and investments, the outcomes are very disappointing: We will be losing and/or wasting one-third of our forecasted 47.3 billion USD agricultural production in this year [15]. Moreover, in February 2015, the deputy of minister of Jahad and Agriculture (Mr.A.Keshawarz) announced that food waste in the state accounts for wastage of 15 billion cubic meters of freshwater resources per annum [16]. At the time of this announcement, the sum of water reserves behind Iranian dams was reported to be 20.17 billion cubic meters with a total 9.49 billion cubic meter intake flow, and the state of water reservoirs is getting more tense since the day [17]. Other harmful aspects of wasted food (on the supply hand) include the carbon footprint, depletion of non-renewable natural resources, and overuse of renewable resources in production and supply of agricultural products.

   On the consumption side, the wasted food is often disposed as wet trash (mainly consisting of edible and non-edible portions of wasted food, and other perishable organic garbage). The rate of waste disposal in Iran is estimated to be around 20 million tons per year [18], and it is said that 65-70 percent of Iranian trash flow is consisted of wet trash [19, 20, and 21]. Waste disposal has been a controversial issue in Islamic Republic of Iran: only 20 percent of the waste flow is recycled, 2 percent is landfilled according to sanitary standards, and the rest of this flow is dumped or landfilled in non-standard ways [18]. Wet trash as a source of pathogens, greenhouse gases(2), pests and vermin, and contamination of soil, water, and air, is among the most unwanted, polluting hazardous substances in human society.

     Let’s review what we are doing: we are affording heavy (socioeconomic and environmental) costs to cultivate and supply food to our people, and then we not only lose a great part of it between the farms and stores carelessly, but we also waste another great part of it in our kitchens. The unwanted wastes transform into detrimental substances to health and environment and we have to invest some other tons of money and resources to reduce (or lag) the impacts of them on human and environment. This cycle is aggravatingly working to ruin the planet and human societies, and is not sane in terms of economy, business, social life, personal life, environmental preservation, or any other human rationale. Accordingly, we have to find solutions to tackle this issue.

Technological and Cultural Elaboration

     As mentioned earlier, in the developing countries the food is more lost than wasted due to technological deficiencies. Exhibit 7 shows the patterns of waste in different food categories among the states in South and South East Asia [22]. Whereas in FAO’s report Islamic Republic of Iran is included in this region, we may roughly assume that the waste patterns are also valid in Iran. As stated before, most of food waste in Iran occurs in the supply hand.

     This is corroborated by many experts and executives in Iran: T.Talebi discusses that supplied wheat and flour to Iranian bread industry does not have the required quality. Some supplied wheat crops (either inbound or imported) does not have the needed quality and they are wetted during transport phase to gain weight. The deposited (not necessarily high quality) wheat in silos is handed to milling plants. The mill plants sell the high quality flour to pastry shops and biscuit factories, sell the husk material to animal farms, and eventually they provide the remaining low quality flour by the officially-quoted price to bakeries. This pattern of supply, along with low-efficiency baking methods, and lack of competence in the bread industry’s labor force result in production of low quality and wasteful bread in the society [11]. S.Asadi from Rice Research Institute of Iran says production and harvesting of rice are wasteful processes. He adds that 25 percent of Iranian rice production is reduced into broken rice, mainly according to lack of efficient machinery, and knowledge and training of human resources in rice processing operations. He also mentions that prolonged warehousing of inbound-produced rice in times where the markets are saturated with imports, also entail significant effects on quality of crops and increases the wastes on consumption hand [8]. E. Pourheidari, Head of Hormozgan Dates Association says that 35% of Iranian dates production is wasted per year in depots, as there are no customers for the product. A. Kavousi, Head of Boushehr Dates Association, confirms the poor state of Iranian dates industry and asserts that great wastes occur in production, packaging, and transport of crops. A. Khalili, Head of Food Industries Workgroup in Irainan Chamber of Trade, Mining , and Industries substantiates the shortcomings in production, harvesting, handling, packaging, and transport and evaluates them as great origins of loss of Iranian date. He also urges that the marketing and distribution of Iranian date is in a poor state, and the capacity and performance of date processing industries are insufficient in the second largest producer of this valuable agro-product in the world [9]. M.H. Ansari, former Spokesman of Jahad & Agriculture Ministry announced 30 percent waste in fruit, and accounted it to packaging, logistics and processing industries[24]. R.Noorani , Head of export confederation gives a 25-30 percent figure for fruit waste and accounts logistics and cool chain for it[25].

Exhibit 2- Food waste in South and South East Asia in 2009 according to FAO [22]

     The issues on the consumption hand are different. In Islamic-Iranian culture, food is a bestowed, proliferating gift (i.e. Barekat) from Allah Almighty, and misuse or overuse of it is not accepted morally. This has been a common value among Iranians for thousands of years In addition to this, the economic pressures on Iranian consumers have reduced the rate of consumption of comestibles to a great extent: this is evidenced by the changes in prices and consumption rates of food staples within the past decade( exhibits 3, and 4). However, this revered value is being affected by some defects in supply chains and culture: Firstly, loss of quality in supply chains of many agro-products and foods is reflected in food waste on consumption hand. In this sense a big portion of food waste in consumption phase is rooted in the former stages of supply chains, and should be essentially considered as food loss. We already provided instances in supply chains of bread, fruits and vegetables. One major concern in this area is absence of food policy in Islamic Republic of Iran. The state is in need of an all-encompassing food policy, rather than several independent agricultural, industrial, health, Environmental, social, and political policies (3). The policy should be built on recognition of systemic relations of all these facets, and intent of maximal satisficing of interests of nation and state (e.g. nutrition, health, environmental protection, resource management, national independence, international trade, maximum value production, social welfare, etc.).

Exibit 3– Changes in prices of 20 staple foods between IFY1384-IFY1392 [26]

Exibit 4 – Changes in Consumption rate of 13 staple foods between IFY1383-IFY1392 [27]

Moreover, some harmful consumption patterns have been growing in Iranian society. One harmful consumption pattern is the consumerist attitude and behavior towards food. This is not a general behavior among Iranians, and is restricted to some individuals in very high-income social classes. However this detrimental attitude that considers unneeded plenty and wasteful overuse of food as a sign of prestige, is prevalent in some of our businesses and industries. Among these we can point to restaurants, hotels, catering centers, etc. This behavior can be exacerbated with a raise in general purchase power in the post-sanction era. This attitude and behavior should be encountered and controlled by the state and the nation. Nevertheless, it should be noticed that effectiveness of pricing and market control is restricted, and the real effective solutions are the cultural ones.


     The food and agriculture sector is among the vital and invaluable subsystem of Islamic Republic of Iran. It has served and sustained our nation in the hard times, and it is an indispensable part of our nation’s life. In recent years, as this sector is encountered with serious challenges like water crisis, burst of population, climate change, and land erosion, we should manage to change and transform the sector towards sustainable development.

     We formerly explained that food waste is among the emblems of diseconomy and deviation from sustainability in the global perspective. We showed the fact that food waste is consuming the planet and human societies. We discussed that food is rather lost in developing states via technological deficiency, while it is wasted through consumerism in developing countries. We indicated that 16 percent of the world population is accountable for 28 percent of global food waste while 805 million people are inflicted by hunger in the world.

     In the national outlook, we indicated that food waste is a grave problem: it is accountable for billions of dollars of economic loss, depletion of nation’s resources, pollution and devastation of environment, and erosion of state’s power. This is in absolute discord with the state’s 1404 (2024 A.D.) vision and the guidelines of resistive economy. We outlined that the patterns of food waste in Iran is similar to those in south and south east Asia; we corroborated this assumption by reference to experts and executives in Iranian food and agriculture sector. We concluded that Iranian food waste is more a technological issue, rather than a cultural problem. Therefore we should concentrate on technological improvement of agricultural supply chains. This should be done in the framework of Islamic Republic of Iran’s national food policy.

   Islamic and Iranian culture values food as a bestowed, proliferating gift of God, and implies commitment to protection and productive use of food. However, we mentioned that some harmful consumption patterns are growing that should be controlled nationwide: one pattern is consumerism that seems to be spreading in such businesses and industries as catering, hotels and restaurants. These consumption patterns amplify the food waste. Such trends should be encountered effectively: we commended that cultural initiatives are much more effective than normative market control measures.

     Although food waste indicates substantial diseconomy, it also implies ample room for economic improvement and growth. Food Waste Control schemes are planned and implemented to result in terms of decades and generations. It is ultimate time to beseech national will and causative management in this essential direction.

Source: WriterBeat. Date: April 9, 2016