People wait to have their Iftar on the first day of Ramadan at Prince Turki Bin Abdullah Mosque in Riyadh. Image Credit: REUTERS

Manama: Mirvat heaved a deep sigh as she gave away two dishes of rice to the man standing in front of their house in Riffa in central Bahrain.

“I am grateful to all the people who try to help in reducing food waste and in providing the needy with meals,” the banker said. “Ramadan is the month of fasting, and yet we prepare more dishes and cook more food than on regular days. The idea of rewarding ourselves with lavish food after a day of fasting by putting a wide array of dishes on the table is not fair. People also refuse to eat the food prepared the previous day, even if it is intact. The month is meant to teach us how to restrain ourselves, not indulge in excesses with terrible financial, social and economic consequences for all,” she said.

A group of Bahraini volunteers this year went beyond words and launched an initiative to battle against excesses and waste and to take leftover food from families and distribute it to the needy.

Hifdh Al Ne’ma (Saving Blessings) was started by teacher who was able to connect via social media with other people who shared his beliefs and ideal, turning the swelling group into an action team.

The volunteers collect food from families, ensure it is well preserved and deliver it to others who need it.

They insist that a new culture should be adopted in the country to reduce excesses especially during the month of fasting.

The problem however is not confined to Bahrain.

In Saudi Arabia, the largest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, experts said that the waste in rice alone has reached the staggering figure of SR1.6 billion annually.

“Saudi Arabia imports around 1.1 million tonnes of rice every year, worth SR4 billion,” economic experts told local daily Al Madina. “However, around 440 tonnes are wasted while only 660 tonnes are properly consumed,” they said.

Mohammad Al Hammadi, the head of the food security and agriculture at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce, confirmed that the waste in rice was up to 40 per cent.

“It is a cultural issue,” he said. “People have to be made aware of the shocking dimension of the problem of wasting food, particularly rice. A more sensible approach towards not wasting food should be applied at home and in the schools so that gradually the whole society starts to deal with the waste of food. People should learn to consume only what they need and avoid excesses that result in waste.”

Rice and wheat are the main ingredients in the Saudi diet and they should be preserved sensibly, he added.

Charity organisations providing food for the people have mushroomed in the kingdom, relying mainly on donations.

One organisation, Itaam, said that it provided 231,764 meals in 2013.

“We use traditional and new media to communicate with people and to raise awareness about the need not to waste food, Khalid Al Khan, the head of public relations, said. “We have signed several accords to promote anti-waste campaigns and we are now working on having some animation movies to outreach to children and schools. A recent study we conducted concluded that social awareness was on the rise and that people are now more conscious about the negative effects of food waste on society and the national economy,” he said.

Reports in neighbouring Qatar, one of the world’s richest states, say that about one quarter of all food prepared in the peninsular country in Ramadan is wasted.

EcoMena, an environmental awareness organisation, reportedly said that about half of the waste sitting in Qatar’s landfills is food.

“Qatar has long struggled to dispose of this and other types of waste in sustainable ways. The country currently only recycles less than 10 per cent of its waste, though efforts are underway to increase that number,” an EcoMena official told Doha News.

According to local activists, the first step in fighting food waste is to promote appreciation of the damage caused by throwing out edible food and to boost institutional efforts to take this food before it is thrown away and give it to the needy.