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National Nutrition Week: Food Wastage In India, Its Implications on Nutrition and Sustainability

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Food Waste
 
INDIANS waste as much food as the whole of United Kingdom consumes – a statistic that may not so much indicative of our love of surfeit, as it is of our population. Still, food wastage is an alarming issue in India. Our street and garbage bins, landfills have sufficient proof to prove it.
Weddings, canteens, hotels, social and family functions, households spew out so much food. According to the United Nations Development Programme, up to 40% of the food produced in India is wasted. About 21 million tonnes of wheat are wasted in India and 50% of all food across the world meets the same fate and never reaches the needy. In fact, according to the agriculture ministry, INR 50,000 crores worth of food produced is wasted every year in the country.

The Nutritional Loss

One of the most pressing implications of food wastage is the loss of essential nutrients that could have been utilized to address India’s malnutrition challenges. As millions of Indians struggle to access adequate nutrition, the wastage of nutrient-rich foods exacerbates the problem. Fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein sources are often discarded before reaching consumers, resulting in the loss of vitamins, minerals, and proteins that are vital for health.
Malnutrition remains a significant issue in India despite advancements in various sectors. The Global Hunger Index ranks India 101st out of 116 countries in 2022, indicating serious levels of hunger and undernutrition. While India’s agricultural production has increased significantly over the years, this accomplishment is diminished by the large quantity of food that goes to waste.

Impact on Sustainability

Food wastage also takes a toll on environmental sustainability. The resources used in food production—such as water, energy, and land—become wasted when the food is discarded. The carbon footprint associated with producing, transporting, and processing wasted food contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, when food waste ends up in landfills, it generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas that accelerates climate change.
Consider the scenario: a farmer invests substantial resources in cultivating a crop. This process requires water, fertilizer, labour, and energy. The harvested crop then travels through the supply chain, consuming additional energy during transportation and storage. If a significant portion of this food goes to waste, the resources invested in its production are squandered, along with the potential to feed those in need.

Root Causes of Food Wastage

Several factors contribute to food wastage in India. Poor storage and inadequate infrastructure along the supply chain lead to spoilage. A lack of awareness among consumers about proper food storage and confusion between “best before” and “use by” dates can lead to premature disposal. Additionally, market demands for aesthetically perfect produce result in rejection of imperfect-looking fruits and vegetables.
India’s food supply chain is intricate, often involving numerous intermediaries, from farmers and traders to distributors and retailers. This complexity can lead to inefficiencies, with food getting lost at various points along the chain due to lack of proper handling, storage, and transportation facilities. Improving supply chain management, including cold storage facilities, transportation infrastructure, and packaging, could significantly reduce food wastage.

Why is food wastage a problem?

1) 25% of fresh water used to produce food is ultimately wasted, even as millions of people still don’t have access to drinking water. When you calculate the figures in cubic kilometers, this is a bit more than an average river.
2) 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. The number of hungry people in India has increased by 65 million more than the population of France. According to a survey by Bhook (an organization working towards reducing hunger) in 2013, 20 crore Indians sleep hungry on any given night. About 7 million children died in 2012 because of hunger/malnutrition.
3) Acres of land are deforested to grow food. Approximately 45% of India’s land is degraded primarily due to deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, and excessive groundwater extraction to meet the food demand.
4) 300 million barrels of oil are used to produce food that is ultimately wasted.
The Minister of Food Processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal seems to have chalked out a roadmap. Yes, a map literally, which shows exactly what fruits and vegetables are grown and where.
She says, “My ministry works as a catalyst. It has the potential for doing a couple of things which are the need of the hour. Firstly, bring down food wastage. Food is being wasted at the harvest point and during transportation. If the same food which is wasted can be processed, it would mean it could either be available in raw form or in bottled form at a price which is affordable to the aam aadmi.”
Food wastage cripples a country’s economy to an extent that most of us are unaware. Some measures that the government needs to take include containing wastage in transportation, improve storage facilities (the cold storage chain is 50% less than required and that too needs to be brought up to world standards), food processing also needs to be sped up so food is saved and wasted less to feed more.
While you may not be able to reduce food lost during production, you can certainly reduce food at your personal level of food waste. Every step taken in the right direction counts.

Reducing Food Wastage: A Multifaceted Approach

Addressing the pressing issue of food wastage requires a multifaceted approach that involves the concerted efforts of governments, industries, and individuals. By collectively addressing the root causes of wastage and implementing strategic measures, we can significantly curb the losses incurred in the food production process.

1. Educational Campaigns

Educational campaigns serve as powerful tools to transform consumer behavior and perceptions regarding food wastage. Raising awareness about the consequences of wastage and highlighting the direct impact on nutrition and sustainability can stimulate mindful consumption. These campaigns can also educate individuals on simple yet impactful practices that can be integrated into their daily lives:
– Proper Storage Techniques: Educating consumers about the correct methods of storing perishable items can extend their shelf life and reduce the likelihood of premature spoilage.
– Effective Meal Planning: Encouraging individuals to plan their meals can prevent overbuying and lead to the consumption of purchased food items before they go bad.
– Creative Use of Leftovers: Promoting the idea of repurposing leftovers into new dishes not only reduces food wastage but also adds variety to meals.

2. Improved Supply Chain Management

Efforts to improve supply chain management play a crucial role in reducing food wastage at every stage of the journey from farm to table:
– Cold Storage Infrastructure: Investing in robust cold storage facilities can prolong the freshness of perishable goods, reducing spoilage during transportation and storage.
– Transportation Efficiency: Modernizing transportation networks and employing efficient logistics can minimize delays and ensure that produce reaches consumers promptly, preserving its quality.
– Packaging Innovation: Developing sustainable packaging solutions that provide adequate protection to food items can help prevent damage during transit.

3. Surplus Redistribution

The redirection of surplus food from farms, restaurants, and households to those in need forms a compassionate and effective approach to food wastage mitigation:
– Collaborations with NGOs and Food Banks: Collaborating with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and food banks facilitates the organized collection and distribution of surplus food to vulnerable populations.
– Minimizing Food Disposal: Encouraging food establishments to partner with local initiatives for surplus food donation can prevent edible food from being discarded unnecessarily.

4. Policy Reforms

Governments play a pivotal role in shaping the strategies and frameworks that combat food wastage:
– Incentivizing Food Donation: Implementing incentives, such as tax breaks, for businesses that donate surplus food to charitable organizations can encourage greater participation in food redistribution.
– Stricter Food Labeling Guidelines: Introducing clearer and more informative labeling regulations can help consumers make informed decisions about the freshness and safety of food products.
– Promoting Sustainable Practices: Governments can advocate for sustainable waste management practices, such as composting and recycling of food waste, reducing the burden on landfills and minimizing environmental impact.

9 things to do

Here’s what one can do on a more personal level to contain the food wastage:
1) Plan out your meal and make your shopping list to determine what you actually need for the week. About 20% of what we buy in urban India ends up being thrown away.  You could in the week after cut down on the surplus and soon in two or three weeks you will have a precise list of your family’s weekly consumption. You have no idea how amazed you will be at how much you buy and what you actually consume. Needless to say that the difference is but naturally wasted.
2) Buy in quantities you can realistically use. Avoid impulse buys. It will more or less find the bin.
3) If you cook at home, make sure you cook keeping in mind there is no excess. You can always complete your meals with a few fruits rather than keep some extra food in the refrigerator. It’s a lot better and a healthier practice too.
4) Select according to their shelf life. Use the green vegetables first. Don’t throw out fruits and veggies with ‘aesthetic only’ blemishes. Use canned and bottled food before expiry dates.
5) Reuse the refrigerated left-overs (if any) for the very next meal.
6) Even if food gets spoilt then compost it.
7) If you work in an office that has a canteen, check with them on how they manage excess food. Cooked food, especially since it has a low shelf life needs to be managed better and faster. Check with NGOs who offer to transport excess food to the needy.
8) If you host a family get together either at home, a marriage hall or throw a party at a hotel, make sure you plan for the food to be transported to a place like an orphanage or an old age shelter.
9) Make finishing your plate a habit. Try to inculcate it further to as many possible.

Success Stories and Initiatives

1. “Annakshetra” Project in Rajasthan

The “Annakshetra” initiative in Rajasthan stands as a beacon of hope in the battle against food wastage. By collecting surplus food from weddings and events, the project redistributes it to individuals in need. This innovative approach not only prevents wastage but also addresses food insecurity among marginalized communities, fostering a sense of social responsibility and care.

2. Feeding India and Robin Hood Army

Organizations like Feeding India and Robin Hood Army have emerged as champions in the fight against food wastage. By channeling surplus food from various sources to those who lack access to proper nutrition, these initiatives bridge the gap between abundance and need, transforming food wastage into a tool for social betterment.

3. Pune’s Waste Management Initiatives

In Pune, volunteers from the Swachh Association have established a forward-thinking system that segregates kitchen waste into biodegradable and non-biodegradable categories. The organic waste is then converted into compost, enriching the soil and reducing the amount of waste ending up in landfills. This holistic approach not only addresses food wastage but also contributes to the broader goal of waste management and environmental conservation.

Conclusion

The multifaceted approach to reducing food wastage outlined above underscores the urgency of tackling this challenge through collaborative efforts. Governments, industries, and individuals must recognize their roles in mitigating food wastage’s adverse effects on nutrition and sustainability. By raising awareness, optimizing supply chains, redistributing surplus food, and implementing policy reforms, we can collectively pave the way for a future where food resources are valued, utilized efficiently, and directed towards nourishing communities and preserving our planet. Through such concerted actions, we not only combat food wastage but also sow the seeds of positive change for generations to come.