Message of the UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director

This World Environment Day 2013, Mongolia is named the global host by UNEP, with (from L - R) Mongolia Vice Minister of Environment and Green development Tulga Buya, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Cristina Figueres, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, and Hassan Abdel-Gadir Hilal, President of the Governing Council. credit: UNEP

Every year on June 5th, people across the planet celebrate the United Nations World Environment Day. It is a day for action where hundreds of thousands of activities take place in virtually every country in the world to improve the environment now and for the future. 

This year’s theme focuses on food waste and food loss. Think.Eat.Save. Reduce Your Foodprint is the new campaign that UNEP and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN, in conjunction with a rapidly growing list of partners from the public and private sector, launched earlier this year. It draws attention both to the issue and the absurdity that high volumes of perfectly edible produce are never making it from the farm to the fork. 

Indeed, at least a third of everything we grow on this planet is lost between the field and the consumer. It is an ethical, economic and environmental issue given the enormous waste of energy, water, fertilisers and other inputs as a result of food that is produced but never eaten. 

Each one of us can do something about this and that’s why, through the Think.Eat.Save. Reduce Your Foodprint campaign, we invite people across the world to join us in an effort to both raise awareness and to take practical actions whether in your home, whether on your farm, whether in the supermarket, in a canteen, in a hotel or anywhere else where food is prepared and consumed.   

This year’s global host for WED 2013 is Mongolia, one of the fastest growing economies in the world and one that is aiming for a transition to a green economy and a green civilization. It is not a big waster or loser of food, but the traditional and nomadic life of many of its people does have some ancient answers to the modern-day challenge of food waste.

The Mongol general Chinggis Khan and his troops utilised a traditional food called borts to gallop across Asia without depending on elaborate supply chains. Borts is basically concentrated beef equal to the protein of an entire cow but condensed and ground down to the size of a human fist. This remarkable method of food preservation, without refrigeration, meant a meal equivalent to several steaks when the protein was shaved into hot water to make soup.

And the Mongolians have other secrets to share that may contribute to preserving and thus not wasting food — the aaruul, for instance, is a form of dried curds that can last as a perfectly healthy dish or snack for years, again without refrigeration.

UNEP has, in advance of WED 2013, been compiling similar examples of traditional and indigenous knowledge from familiar techniques such as pickling or salting fish to the smoking of meat, the drying of fruit and other techniques employed by the Inuits to preserve seabirds which are served later at feasts and weddings.

Mongolia is also aiming to green not only its mining sector but its energy and agricultural systems while developing its landscapes and national parks — home to such rare and iconic species as the przewalskii horse — for eco-tourism. 

Join us on June 5th in Mongolia or wherever you are in the world and organise an event. It can be in your home, your school, your company and your community. Share what you are up to including photographs via the dedicated website — And above all, Think Eat Save. Reduce Your Foodprint.

Achim Steiner is the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

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