TACKLING FOOD WASTAGE IN INDIA

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Food wastage is fast assuming serious dimensions. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a staggering 1.3 billion tonnes of food is being wasted annually. The FAO report further states that one-third of the total global food production is wasted, costing the world economy about $750 billion or Rs47 lakh crore. This alarming increase in food wastage is generating nearly 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, thereby severely impacting the environment. The wastage of rice in particular has serious ramifications for the environment as decaying rice releases methane, a potent global warming gas.

Food wastage is an issue that has a global scale. According to a report by the National Resources Defence Council (NRDC), 40 per cent of the food goes uneaten in the US, whereas in Asia, India and China cause a loss 1.3 billion tonnes of food wastage every year. In terms of overall food waste — agricultural produce, poultry and milk — India ranks seventh, with the Russian Federation at the top of the list.

India’s lower ranking is because most of the countries ranking above it utilise much of their land in raising poultry, while a major chunk of land in India is under agriculture and this explains the highest wastage of cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables that occurs in India.

A recent study conducted by Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata, revealed that only 10 per cent of foods get cold storage facility in India, this factor, accompanied by inappropriate supply chain management, has resulted in India becoming a significant contributor towards food wastage both at pre and post harvest waste in cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables. India ranks 63 among 88 countries in Global Hunger Index with 20 crore Indians sleeping hungry on any given night, but in spite of this, nearly 21 million tonnes of wheat are wasted in India each year instead of reaching the needy.

Apart from the wastage of the food produced, the resources lost in the form of inputs during food production are also considerable. For instance, 25 per cent of fresh water, used to produce food, is ultimately wasted, even as millions of people still don’t have access to drinking water. In addition, approximately 45 per cent of India’s land is degraded primarily due to deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, and excessive groundwater extraction to meet the food demand.

Besides this, nearly300 million barrels of oil used to produce food is also ultimately wasted. Taking all of it into consideration, the actual worth of money per year in India from food wastage is estimated at a whopping Rs58,000 crore.

The Government has made many efforts to rein in food wastage but clearly, the depth of the problem is such that the impact of these efforts is hardly up to the mark. In order to make progress in reducing the burden of this problem, the Government needs to primarily contain the excessive wastage in transportation and improve storage facilities that are currently 50 per cent less than required.  Besides this, the Government must also focus on food processing technologies that are both advanced and affordable so that food preservation practices can be encouraged thereby saving food from wastage.

India should also take a cue from global practices that are both unorthodox and innovative in order to tackle food wastage problem. For instance, France has passed unanimous legislation requiring supermarkets to either give unsold food to charity or send it to farmers for use as feed and fertiliser.

Similarly, institutions in Canada are recovering unused and unspoiled food from retailers, manufacturers, restaurants and caterers and sending them to charities, in the process delivering ingredients for over 22,000 meals daily. These powerful initiatives have made a big difference in how these countries have approached a vexing issue.

India can effectively use technology to script a new chapter in prevention of food wastage. The Government can speed up research in Nano technology with the help of which eco-friendly and healthy food preservation applications can be invented that are helpful in preserving food for longer duration and keeping farm produce fresh.

In addition to these efforts, the Government must make it mandatory for the food retailers across the country to adopt technology standards that allow incentives for the customer to purchase perishable products that are approaching their expiration dates. This will help reduce food wastage, maximises grocery retailer revenue, and effectively reduces the global carbon footprint.

The World Economic Forum warns that food shortages represent one of the biggest risks to global stability over the next decade as countries are increasingly affected by climate change. Even though the world produces enough food to feed twice the world’s present population, food wastage is ironically behind the billions of people who are malnourished. It is time to recognise this colossal scale of waste and take appropriate action that not only benefits humanity but the environment as well.

Source: Daily Pioneer

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