Food waste refers to the removal of food from the overall supply that is fit for consumption, or which has been spoiled or expired. India being one of the biggest culprits in food wastage, despite a malnourished population, here are two suggestions for positive action towards food wastage in India.
Solar dryers for fish
When fisherfolk neither sell their daily catch nor have the option of refrigeration, they regularly spread the fish out to dry in the sun. Sun-dried fish or prawns can lose most of their moisture within a day, but in the meantime they are exposed to weather, dust, insects, birds and animals.
A solar dryer – often just a bamboo or wood frame covered in plastic or glass, with a couple of holes for air circulation – collects the sun’s rays to increase the temperature and speed the drying while protecting the product from damage.
Solar dryers have been introduced in a number of countries, including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Rwanda, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea. According to research in Maharashtra, using a solar dryer improves the colour and texture of dehydrated prawns compared with traditional sun-drying. Better quality and less loss should add up to a higher market price for each catch. Other perishable products like fruit, vegetables, spices and medicinal plants can also be dried this way, often with similar benefits.
A team from the local College of Agricultural Engineering and Technology built and tested solar dryers in Maharashtra. The solar fish dryers solved a problem that fishers care about: losing their product to pests or the elements. Cheap and easy to build, solar dryers are a pro-poor solution. In Maharashtra, simply running an electric dryer for two months costs about as much as building a solar dryer from scratch.
Sun-drying has always been an accessible method for processing fresh produce to stabilise its value. Solar dryers are an inexpensive upgrade: in Maharashtra, the materials to build a dryer cost less than INR 1,700. The investment is affordable to local fisherfolk, with the payback period only 2.5 months. Unlike a mechanical dryer, solar dryers require no electricity or fuel and produce zero greenhouse gas emissions.
More of the catch makes it to market, and fishers may obtain higher prices for a cleaner and more attractive product. Improved livelihoods increase resilience to all kinds of shocks. The enclosed drying frames might protect against unpredictable weather or climate-driven pest outbreaks while the zero-emissions solar dryers are a climate-friendly technology.
Mapping the production system of black gram
India is the largest producer and consumer of the pulse black gram (urad); it produces 70% of the world’s black gram and black gram accounts for 10% of total pulse production in India. India is also the largest consumer of black gram.
Total Indian production is not sufficient to fulfill its domestic demand. Because of this, India is also the largest importer of this pulse; accordingly, understanding this crop’s post-harvest loss is an economic priority and important strategy to improve food security.
In 2012, the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss at the University of Illinois, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation’s Food Waste and Spoilage Initiative and MART, conducted a two-month study on black gram loss in 11 villages across two states. Participatory rural appraisals were conducted with farmer groups to assess harvest and post-harvest practices and loss across the supply chain, as well as with focus groups of farmer organizations and women’s groups. In-depth interviews with key stakeholders focused on postharvest activities and practices.
Results showed that loss was principally dependent on weather conditions, labour availability, and market conditions. Farmers were well aware of loss and could provide approximate quantification. Maximum loss was identified during the harvest and drying stages, whether produced for sale or consumption. Commercial farmers also reported significant loss during the storage, grading, and repacking stages.
Farmers cultivating black gram for both commercial and non-commercial production would benefit from enhancing skills and knowledge of farmers in post-harvest management; efficiency and effectiveness of existing equipment and devices through targeted research; and developing and promoting low-cost devices and storage facilities for use at farmer level.
With greater access to inputs and through supportive public policy, there is considerable opportunity to decrease post-harvest loss. Grading schemes would differentiate quality and incentivise investment in improved technology, while extending responsibility beyond the farm level to traders who traffic in pulses.