Food Wastage Is India Ready to Tackle this Menace?

Food wastage or food loss is defined as the food which is discarded or lost uneaten. The causes of this global menace are numerous; however, generally its incidence is attributed to the wastage that happens during production, processing, retailing and consumption.

Food wastage is slowly and steadily turning out to be a big menace for the developed as well as the emerging world, with almost 50 percent of food being wasted worldwide, based on a survey conducted by the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) in 2013. It is estimated that loss and wastage of food generally occurs at all stages of food supply chain or value chain. In fact, for developing economies, the principal cause of wastage has been attributed to losses during production while for developed ones, around 100 kilograms per person, gets wasted at the consumption stage (See Table 1 for details).

Global Extent

The global estimates of food wastage are highly staggering and alarming with a 2011 Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (SIK) study concluding that the global food loss and waste was around one third of the edible parts of food produced for human consumption, amounting to approximately 1.3 billions tonnes per year. For rich and industrialised economies, the losses were seen occurring at the retail and consumer levels while for the developing ones, they were visible in the post-harvest and processing stages.

Worldwide Food Waste Facts

• Every year, consumers in industrialised countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (222 million vs 230 million tonnes);

• The amount of food lost and wasted every year is equal to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crops (2.3 billion tonnes in 2009/10).

India and the Problem of Food Wastage

After adopting the New Economic Policy in 1991 and the triple mantra of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation, India embarked on sustaining economic growth rates in the range of 5-8 percent. However, the strong and robust strides made towards economic development were offset by a rapidly increasing population which brought with it problems like poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and the incidence of acute food hunger.

Well, for an economy which was considered self-sufficient in the area of food grain production in 1967, owing to the Green Revolution, it was ironical that it had to continuously struggle in feeding around 50 percent of the rural population that was below the poverty line even in the post liberalised era. Even in 2015, post the Modi Government assumes power in India, a lot of experts have forewarned that if necessary steps are not undertaken on time to arrest India’s growing chronic food insecurity then the nation would be on the brink of an unprecedented food crisis.

In fact, as per a news story covered by Deccan Herald on August 23, 2013, the total amount of annual food waste in India stands at a whopping ₹44,000 crore every year, single-handedly owing to lack of storage infrastructure. While the amount of wastage of fruits and vegetables alone was estimated at ₹13,300 crore, other food products like rice, wheat, cereals and meat are also allowed to perish without consumption.

This concern was well highlighted by a former Agriculture Minister from Maharashtra, who had once remarked that food worth $8.3 billion, or nearly 40 percent of the total production, gets wasted annually. As a result, around one-third of the world’s malnourished children live in India. According to the 2013 Global Hunger Index (GHI), India still ranks a 63rd, out of the 78 hungriest countries, significantly worse than Sri Lanka (43rd), Nepal (49th), Pakistan (57th), and Bangladesh (58th). This is a cause of national disgrace and remains a grey area that needs to be addressed if the nation wants to become a super-economic power by the end of 2030.

So what are the principal reasons, as to why a very high proportion of food that India produces never reaches consumers? Broadly they are:

• Absence of Modern Food Distribution Chains;
• Few Cold-storage Centers and Refrigerated Trucks;
• Poor Transportation Facilities;
• Erratic Electricity Supply;
• Lack of Incentives to Invest in this Sector.

In fact, out of these five major stumbling blocks mentioned above, the Indian Institute of Management in Kolkata estimates that the most important factor for India’s rampant food waste lies in the fact that - cold-storage facilities are available for only 10 percent of perishable products, leaving around 370 million tonnes of perishable products at risk.

The Food Corporation of India, set up in 1964, was established to primarily offer impetus to price-support systems, encourage nationwide distribution, and maintain sufficient buffer

stocks of staples like wheat and rice. But owing to gross mismanagement, lack of proper oversight and not so efficient public distribution system, around one percent of GDP gets shaved off annually, and is now a part of the larger problem of food waste.

So how can this massive problem of food wastage be resolved? First, there need to be a conscious and serious effort from the new Modi Government to develop the state-of-the-art warehouses and cold storage chains so that around 50 percent of the food grains which continue to rot in the open or infested by pests or eaten by rodents are saved, for at least 46 percent of 3 years olds (as per UNICEF data for 2013), who die in India on account of acute hunger every year.

In addition, there is a need to create awareness at all social levels, through aggressive campaigns from advisory and environmental groups to tell the masses about the problem of food wastage and how it is potentially creating food scarcity and hunger for the nation of a billion plus.

Well, consumers can play their role by consistently reducing spoilage by planning their food shopping, avoiding potentially wasteful spontaneous purchases, and storing food properly. Because saving your food for posterity means saving your money and the environment.

The above mentioned steps aimed at food conservation have to be undertaken with a strong sense of conviction from the Government, otherwise a day is not far when the nation would be grossly starved of arable land, irrigation and energy to provide enough nutritious food to India’s future 1.7 billion people if 35-40 percent of food output is left to rot on a continuous and consistent basis.

So hope better sense prevails for the Government in addressing this menace of food waste!!