India may be one of the world’s fastest growing economies today, but that this growth is a lopsided one is evident when one looks at any of the country’s social sector indicators. On the Global Hunger Index, India is at 55. According to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute, one-sixth of India’s population is undernourished, while 190 million people go to bed hungry daily. A total of 30% children below the age of 5 years are underweight. These statistics are worrying because there is no dearth of food it seems, the problem lies in transporting and reaching it to the people. According to an agriculture ministry study, India is growing more food but also wasting up to 67 million tonnes of it every year. That’s more than the national output of Britain, and enough food for Bihar, one of India’s larger states, for a whole year. The value of the food lost – Rs 92,000 crore -- is nearly two-thirds of what it costs the government to feed 600 million poor Indians with subsidised ration under the National Food Security programme.
This wastage happens because of improper handling, lack of on farm weather proof storage and lack of refrigeration at the supplier end. The report also gives solutions: Standardise food sorting practices, invest in storage and mechanise farm operations. All this is easier said than done but the burden of not doing all this is far more damaging for the country, as the report suggest. More important to remember is that food wastage goes beyond just this; it is wastage of water when millions of Indians don’t have water for drinking and sanitation and also degradation of land. Approximately 45% of India’s land is degraded primarily due to deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, and excessive groundwater extraction to meet the food demand. Then there is loss of manpower and electricity.
India, however, is not unique in the level of its losses. According to United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization, 42% of fruit and vegetables grown in the Asia-Pacific region, and up to 20% of the grain, fail to reach consumers because of poor post-harvest handling.
According to 2014 study by the Indian Institute of Management in Kolkata, cold storage facilities are available for just 10 per cent of India’s perishable produce – and are mostly used for potatoes
Read: 2013 Global Hunger Index
The report is clear on what the government needs to do. But what about us, the end-users? We waste too by not planning our shopping, cooking excess food, and throwing away when there are many organisations, who can help us redistribute excess food.