Food Waste Around the World Episode 8: Azerbaijan
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.
Hi Ilaha, welcome to this interview and thank you for participating in the project Food Waste Around the world. To start, can you tell me where are you from and a little bit about yourself?
I'm Ilaha Aliyeva, I'm from Azerbaijan, and I was born in Ganja which is 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.
And I think, honestly, for Azerbaijan, our food waste is related to poor infrastructure. Because in developing countries, including Azerbaijan, the processing is our main problem. It's not about how we consume a lot of food, it's about how 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? Regarding food waste, do we have similarities and differences through your eyes?
I think the first difference is the infrastructure, as I mentioned before. The Netherlands suffer fewer food losses each year than Azerbaijan. Besides, I think the more important one is awareness.
For Azerbaijan, I don't think we're well informed about food waste or environmental issues. For example, we're talking about recycling, but the government just put recycling bins on the streets in public places, but people don't know why we should differentiate our garbage and throw our garbage in the necessary trash bins like paper, metal, and paper soon. 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. Therefore, I think the main difference is that the Dutch are much more aware of environmental problems and food waste, but unfortunately we are not as aware of the situation in Azerbaijan.
In my opinion, there is another difference to be 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 therefore not so high. As I mentioned before, we have food losses in the production process, compared to the Netherlands 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, while fish consume 5 kg as opposed to 8.3 kg worldwide and dairy products 209.2 kg compared to 360 kg. In addition, Azerbaijanis only consume 27.8 kg per year, while the world consumes 70 kg. On the contrary, 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 can. Consumers are the biggest culprit with 42 percent of waste. Every consumer throws away 41 kilograms of food a year. Bread is the most wasted product in the Netherlands. In Azerbaijan, however, food consumption is lower than in the Netherlands.
And to add, 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. What is your opinion about it?
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.
So this app is encouraging more of us to share our extra and unwanted food that is lying around and be helpful. That food can be helpful to others who live near to us. But I saw that not a lot of people use this app in my country and not a lot of people are not 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.
Thank you for the very important information! And are you aware of any specific initiatives to address food waste are you aware of to address food waste?
I found one useful this kind of 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. So, 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. I saw that they talk about water shortage and more about some other social and local issues but not about food waste. Unfortunately,
I don't think it's our priority, and it won't be in the next five years. But I know for a fact that they will have to add food waste into their agenda because in the last five years, there has been a water shortage in our country and our agriculture is heavily affected by this and the situation is getting worse every year. Hopefully, after a while, they will realize how our situation is terrible about food waste. So maybe after five years, they can think about prioritizing this. But we are not there yet with putting food waste on our agenda.
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, and in what way or how?
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, more volunteering programs for food waste, also more NGOs. And then, if the state organizations and NGOs, or private organizations could collaborate to take action together it would be so much better. So, then it can be really good for both raising awareness and the implementation of measures. And also, the government makes those decisions, and then NGOs or private organizations can be helpful to implement those decisions and those actions. So I think in this way they can work together and we can collaborate.
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: