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Issue of food wastage in India – Explained, pointwise

Introduction

India witnessed an enormous increase in food production especially after the green revolution of the 1960s. Based on the success, the government introduced other revolutions like white, blue, pink, etc. All of these ensured enough food for everyone. However, still many in India are devoid of quality food due to a significant amount of food wastage in India.

Recently, the UNEP’s Food Waste Index Report 2021 highlights the magnitude of wastage. Although the government has taken robust steps towards wastage prevention. To sensitize the masses towards food wastage India needs to do much more.

Key Findings of Food Waste Index Report 2021
  • Approximately, 17% (931 million tonnes) of total global food production was wasted in 2019. 
  • Among them, 61% of the global waste came from households, 26% from food service and 13% from retail.
  • Household per capita food waste generation is broadly similar across country income groups.
  • In 2019 alone hunger impacted some 690 million people. Another three billion were unable to afford a healthy diet.
Status of food wastage in India

There are various reports that pointed out some important observations about food wastage in India. These are,

  • Per person from Indian homes are throwing away 50KG of food as wastage every year.
  • On the other hand, the FAO’s (Food and Agricultural Organisation) mention that nearly 40 percent of the food produced in India is wasted every year.
  • All this food wastage was present throughout the supply chain. This starts from initial agricultural production to final household consumption.
Impacts of food wastage
  • Prevalence of Hunger: If more food is wasted, then the remaining food is available at higher prices. This excludes many people from accessing quality food owing to poor socio-economic conditions. In the 2020 Global Hunger Index, India ranks 94th out of the 107 countries.
  • Environment Impact: Around 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed. Food waste can reach landfills and emit potent greenhouse gases which have terrible environmental implications.
  • Economic Impact: Food loss and waste cause about $940 billion per year in economic losses to the world. So, India wasting 40% of food can save the economic cost associated with food.
  • Wastage of resources: If the food is wasted, then the cost of factors of production such as land, water, energy, and inputs used to produce food goes in vain. 
Steps taken by Government to reduce Food Wastage

The government has taken various steps to reduce food wastage in India. This includes steps such as,

  • SAMPADA (Scheme for Agro-Marine Processing and Development of Agro-Processing Clusters) scheme was launched in 2016. 
    • One of the core components of the scheme involves developing an integrated cold chain and value addition infrastructure.
    • Similarly, Mega Food Parks also getting developed in India. They will provide adequate and appropriate storage facilities as well as process food. This will improve food preservation and elongate its shelf-life.
  • The National Food Security Act, 2013 places an obligation on the government to deliver quality food at affordable prices to the poor. This places an indirect obligation on the government to reduce food wastage in order to achieve the mission’s objectives.
  • Linking of the Aadhaar card with the Ration card ensured better identification of beneficiaries under the Public distribution system. This reduced the demand for excess food.
Challenges in reducing food wastage in India 
  • Inefficient Supply chains: In India, farmers don’t have easy access to efficient transportation, storage, and marketing of agricultural products. This hinders the prudent collection and distribution of food. This is leading to wastage and distress sales. Few examples,
    • Essential commodities get exemptions from movement restrictions. However, farmers across the country struggled to access markets. This results in tonnes of food waste in India.
    • Similarly, surplus stocks of grain (65 lakh tonnes) in the first four months of 2020 continued to rot in godowns across India.
  • Gaps in Public Distribution System: The PDS in India has a better supply chain system than farmers. But maintenance of warehouses and poor utilization of buffer stocks leads to a lot of food wastage in India.
  • Lack of Data: There is a shortage of credible data on food waste in India. For example, there is no data available at the national, state, and district level. This hampers policy formulation and subsequent assessment of government programs.
  • Awareness Deficit: This leads to a greater stocking of food than the desired amount. This will lead to greater wastage and non-judicious usage. For example, 
    • During the COVID-19 pandemic, huge amounts of food wasted as the affluent class stocked huge food quantities than their required amount.
    • Similarly, Food wastage in India is a common phenomenon in Indian weddings.
  • Attracting Marketing practices: Big supermarkets offer discounts on bulk buying and large portion sizes. This boosts consumption and sales but certainly augments food wastage.
Suggestions
  • India should include Food wastage as a core component of its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Summit. This will place great accountability and motivate the country to take more concrete and innovative steps. 
    • Currently, only 11 countries mention Food waste as part of their NDCs.
  • Multilateral platforms like the UN Food Systems Summit can be used to improve cooperation and collaboration among countries.
  • India can utilise the knowledge and practice of UNEP’s Regional Food Waste Working Groups. Especially to share and learn good practices with peer countries.
  • Sufficient support in the form of incentives and other rebates should be given to innovative food conservation models. 
    • For instance, Adrish is India’s first chain of zero-waste concept stores. They aim to shift people from harmful, artificial consumption to an eco-friendly, zero-waste lifestyle.
    • Similarly,  India Food Banking Network (IFBN) is bringing the government, private sector and NGOs together to fight hunger and malnutrition in India. It aspires to create one food bank in every district of India by 2030.
  • The government has to conduct Awareness and Sensitisation drives to inculcate a behavioural change in food usage. For example, changes like,  
    • Ordering consciously from restaurants
    • Feed someone with extra food or make a compost out of it.
    • Focus on traditional nose-to-tail cooking when it comes to meat and seafood. There are certain regional Indian recipes that encourage this practice. The government has to encourage this. For example, Surnoli, a Mangalorean dosa or gobhi danthal sabzi made with cauliflower stalks and leaves in Punjab.
      Nose-to-tail cooking: It is the method of including as much as of an animal/vegetable in cooking.
  • At the community level – People can associate with organisations like No Food Waste. It is a Coimbatore-based organisation that aims to redistribute excess food to feed the needy and hungry.
Conclusion

India needs a more proactive approach towards Food wastage that should involve a blend of incentives, penalties and behaviour changing measures. This will ensure judicious food utilisation and would also help in achieving SDG 12.3 that aims to halve global food waste by 2030. 

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