Poor harvesting tech, inadequate storage and distribution system blamed

India’s poor harvesting methods coupled with inadequate storage and distribution system contribute significantly to the food wastage globally, says a report by Institution of Mechanical Engineers, UK.

The report, which was released here on Friday, says that at present 4 billion tonnes of food is produced globally, out of which 30-50 per cent (1.2-2 billion tonnes) is being wasted. There is an opportunity to feed 6 billion people on 2-2.8 billion tonnes of food.

Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said, “The reasons (for wastage) range from poor engineering and agricultural practices, inadequate transport and storage infrastructure to supermarkets demanding cosmetically perfect foodstuff and encouraging consumers to overbuy through sales promotion offers.”

Food wastage is a global challenge and the United Nations’ mid-range projection predicts the global population will peak at about 9.5 billion by 2075.

The report highlighted the food-water-energy nexus which means increase in yield would result in increase in demand for energy and water. It estimated that by 2030, there will be 30 per cent increase in global demand for water, and energy requirements would increase by 40 per cent by 2035.

India situation

In India, 20 million tonnes of wheat is lost annually due to poor harvesting and inadequate infrastructure, the report said. “This loss can be reduced by mechanical handling in field, gutters on buildings, sealing cracks and holes to stop rodents, installing temperature control for perishable products and standardised transport crates,” Fox said.

The report added that globally about 40-45 per cent of the perishable products (dairy and fruits and vegetables) is lost. India loses about 18-40 per cent of the perishable items due to poor infrastructure at farm level.

Fox added, “If we are able to curb this loss, it would add about $100 billion to the Indian economy.”

India’s cold storage infrastructure needs to be beefed up. It needs a capacity of about 66 million tonnes, but currently has only 20 million tonnes. “We need a shift in consumer attitude, reliable electricity and chilled transport road, rail infrastructure,” Fox said.

Retailers need to curb wastage at the supermarket level by not promoting buy-one-get-one free schemes or food at half-price that leads to over purchase behaviour by the consumer. The report also said that the hospitality industry, globally, wastes about one-third of its procured food. At the household level, 30-50 per cent of the food bought ends up in the bin.

Fox said, “At the international level, we need to encourage the transfer of knowledge of technology for sustainable future. Nations, on the other hand, need to reclaim national food policy, increase public awareness and deploy sustainable infrastructure. Citizens too need to do their bit by putting pressure on politicians to change retail practices.”

The Institute of Mechanical engineers is an independent body of engineers, which was founded in 1847, and focuses on finding sustainable solutions for the future.

navadha.p@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 25, 2013)
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