Across the world, in animated debates over strategies to advance food security, a fact that is often lost sight of is the enormous amount of food wastage and food losses.
Even as there are as many as 900 million hungry people, the world loses or wastes an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food valued at a staggering $1 trillion equivalent to Rs 50 lakh crore a year. What's more, even if just a fourth of the food currently being lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 900 million hungry people in the world, experts point out.
Steps to cut food wastage
While new initiatives are coming up to reduce food wastage and food loss, the issue is likely to receive focused attention at the upcoming United Nations Rio+20 conference on sustainable development.
Saving food from wastage and losses would not only improve food availability, but also advance sustainability to an extent.
It is really a matter of serious concern that one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is thrown away or lost, as well as the natural resources used for its production.
Food losses and wastes amount to roughly $680 billion in industrialised countries and $310 billion in developing countries. Joint action in reducing losses and waste can improve livelihoods, food security and minimise the environmental impact, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The impact of food losses and wastage is far reaching. According to experts, although food losses occur at all stages of the supply chain, the causes and their impact around the world differ. In industrialised economies, food wastage often occurs at the retail and consumer levels due to a ‘throw-away' mindset. Per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America. Consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South-Southeast Asia throw away 6-11 kg.
In developing countries, most unfortunately, food losses hit small farmers the hardest. Almost 65 per cent of those losses happen at the production, post-harvest and processing stages.
India too faces large-scale losses in crop production, especially food crops. The losses are not merely at the farm level for a variety of reasons including non-standard quality of inputs, pest and disease attacks, antiquated agronomy and lack of scientific pre-harvest practices. Importantly, there is lack of awareness about post-harvest technologies. Additionally, poor supply chain logistics inflict losses.
Lack of adequate storage facilities, absence of primary grading and sorting and poor transportation (including cold chains) combine to render food unusable or cause food to rot. At the processing level too, use of primitive technology, lack of modernisation and inefficiency in energy-use result in huge losses. These eventually add to the cost of food. There is now a crying need to address these issues.
Infusion of new technologies, better practices, coordination and investments in infrastructure – from food production to consumption – are critical for reducing food losses and waste.