Food wastage is an extremely critical issue of national importance. To address the problem of food loss and waste globally, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3 aims to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.
One third of food wasted:
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), “One third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year.”
It also states: “Food is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain, from initial agricultural production to final household consumption.”
The losses, it says, represent “a waste of resources used in production such as land, water, energy and inputs, increasing the green gas emissions in vain”.
What leads to food wastage?
Food wastage is linked to people’s behaviour.
There are wastages which happen due to food’s perishability and the absence of an effective distribution mechanism and legal framework.
A recent study by the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, revealed that only 10% of food is covered by cold storage facilities in India.
This, coupled with poor supply-chain management, results in significant wastage, both at pre- and post-harvest stages, of cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables.
A study undertaken by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (2013) highlights that the underlying cause of post-harvest loss in the country is due to the lack of infrastructure for short-term storage, particularly at the farm level, as well as the lack of intermediate processing in the production catchments.
Implications of food wastage:
Food wastage has multiple socio-economic and environmental impacts.
In a country like India, not only is food scarce for many poor families, it is a luxury for many others.
Though hunger cannot be tackled directly by preventing food wastage, a substantial amount of food that is wasted in our country can feed many hungry people.
India ranked 97th among 118 countries in the Global Hunger Index for 2016. About 20 crore people go to bed hungry and 7,000 people die of hunger every day; wastage of food is not less than a social delinquency.
The wastage of food entails loss of considerable amount of resources in the form of inputs used during production. For example, 25% of fresh water and nearly 300 million barrels of oil used to produce food are ultimately wasted.
The increasing wastage also results in land degradation by about 45%, mainly due to deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, and excessive groundwater extraction.
Wastage results in national economic loss. To put a monetary value to the loss in terms of wastage, India loses Rs. 58,000 crore every year, to quote The CSR Journal.
The energy spent over wasted food results in 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide production every year. Decay also leads to harmful emission of other gases in the atmosphere; for instance, decaying of rice produces methane.
Food waste emissions have a major impact on climate change and result in greater carbon footprint. Food loss and waste generates about 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Laws to encourage donation:
Many countries have legislation providing for global best practices, such as the 1996 Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act in the U.S., which was intended to encourage donation of food and grocery products that meet quality and labelling standards by protecting the donor and the recipient agency against liability, except in the case of gross negligence and/or intentional misconduct.
France has taken a lead by becoming the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from destroying unsold food, forcing them instead to donate it to charities or food banks or send it to the farmers to be used as fertilisers in crop production.
There are many civil society, private sector and community initiatives aimed at distributing food among the poor.
The government is also committed to securing availability of food grains for two-thirds of the 1.3 billion population, under the National Food Security Act, 2013.
While securing food for all or feeding them through such initiatives is important, addressing wastage of food in all forms is equally critical to complete the cycle of food sufficiency and food sustainability.
Looking at the scale of problems, it is wise to frame a comprehensive strategy by combining the efforts of the government and private sectors and civil society.
The government can create a time-bound task force under Niti Aayog, with experts from different sectors, to frame a national policy to tackle this gigantic issue, which can recommend the legal framework to support initiatives to reduce food loss and waste.
As a nation, we need to give priority to tackling this issue so that we can handle the social, economic and environmental ill-effects of wastage of food.
There are initiatives such as India Food Banking Network (IFBN), which is promoting the concept of collaborative consumption with support from the private sector and civil society organisations. Such initiatives, creating networks and channels of distribution between those who have surplus food and those who are in need of them, are necessary.
The government needs to do more and should play a larger facilitating role. The Prime Minister’s call to the nation during Mann ki Baat needs to be followed up with further interventions.
There is an urgent need to understand the complexity of the problem and then to devise a national-level strategy to combat it so that surplus of food can be turned into an advantage instead of resulting in wastage.
Prevention solutions: Upstream solutions include promotion of resource efficient and regenerative agricultural practices ( precision and organic agriculture); improved access to low-cost handling and storage technologies ( evaporative coolers, metal silos).
Mega food parks are being commissioned in India to increase the processing of perishables. Other solutions include using active intelligent packaging for perishables; optimising food packaging; tapping businesses that buy unwanted food/produce directly from distributor/manufacturer for discounted retail sale. Technology would be central to addressing food waste; but the ultimate success will depend on our readiness to change attitudes of stakeholders along the value chain.
Hunger and food wastage are two sides of the coin. The cycle of hunger cannot be broken without channelising the wasted food to help the needy. Without stopping wastage of food, we cannot do justice to millions of hungry people, our economy and the planet.
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