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Dealing with food wastage

During his fortnightly address to the nation on April 9, Prime Minister Narendra Modi complained about the amount of food that is wasted across the country.

Dealing with food wastage
Large-scale food wastage is not a trivial problem in a country, where nearly 27 crore people live below the poverty line. During his fortnightly address to the nation on April 9, Prime Minister Narendra Modi complained about the amount of food that is wasted across the country. In a 2015 report titled, State of Food Security in the World, released by the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization, India accounted for the highest estimated number of undernourished people in any single country—194.6 million. India maybe one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but according to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute nearly 30% children below the age of 5 years are underweight. These statistics should concern any policymaker in government, especially in a country where there is seemingly no dearth of food. In response to Prime Minister Modi's call, Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan suggested that restaurants must disclose the size of portions they serve so that consumers are aware of how much they need to order. Contrary to reports that the Centre is proposing to control the food portions that restaurants serve, Paswan's suggestion for not wasting food after it has been served seems reasonable. Why should a consumer unknowingly order "four idlis when a person can eat only two"? And as the minister goes on to argue, it even saves money for the consumer. The minister reportedly wants to check with restaurants whether they will introduce this measure voluntarily, or whether it will be necessary for the government to pass a law in this regard.

As per a recent study by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, India is wasting up to 67 million tonnes of food every year. This amount of food can feed the state of Bihar for a whole year. According to data published by the Ministry of Food Processing Industries on Tuesday, harvest and post-harvest loss of India's major agricultural produce are approximately Rs 92,651 crore. This is nearly two-thirds of what it costs the government to feed almost half of the population with subsidised rations under the National Food Security scheme. Another damning statistic is that from 2013 to 2015, approximately 40,000 tonnes of food grains were wasted in godowns operated by the Food Corporation of India. In other words, the problem is not with hotels, restaurants or other such commercial establishments, but a severe structural problem at the production and distribution levels. The lack of an efficient cold storage (warehouse) network in India results in the degradation of large quantities of perishable goods, while they are being transported from the field to the market. Analysts contend that the government needs to invest more time and money in building a more robust storage network to reduce wastage. There is a strong link between better storage facilities and food security-agricultural growth. Only 10% of foods get cold storage facility in India, and most of them are for potatoes, according to a recent study conducted by Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata. Allied with other poor supply chain management practices, India has become a significant contributor towards food wastage both at pre and post harvest waste in cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables. "A key sub-industry in modern agriculture is warehousing. Storage reduces price fluctuations. Trusted storage permits `dematerialisation', where warehouse receipts are traded or delivered and is the vital link between physical goods and finance. At present, the quantity and quality of warehouses in India are inadequate. This is a key bridge that has to be crossed for the modernisation of agriculture," says a blog posted by researchers at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. For a better cold-chain infrastructure, however, a lot more needs to be done. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Rick Blasgen, the chairman of the world's largest body of supply chain professionals, the US-based Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, argues that India must improve its transport infrastructure. "It is critical to improve the cold-chain infrastructure. Then, a lot has to be done by the government. For example, road connectivity from ports is poor. India can rely on third-party providers, who know how to bring the infrastructure. That knowledge exists. The infrastructure has to built by developing small islets. That will also bring business into the country. The Chinese government has built railways and roads, although they have the same challenges as India. They have also built large ports where ships can easily come and go," he said. The problem of food waste is not merely relegated to India. More than 40% of the fruits and vegetables grown in the Asia-Pacific region and nearly 20% of the grain fails to reach the consumer due to poor storage and transportation facilities, according to the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization.
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