When it comes to wasting food items, India is ahead of China, says a UN report on food waste and its impact on natural resources.
The grim news comes at a time when prices of most vegetables and fruits are high. The waste also takes a high toll on the country’s natural resources because many of these items, rice for example, consume large quantities of water.
It is estimated more than 230 cubic kilometers of fresh water, enough to provide drinking water to 10 crore people a year, goes into producing food items that are ultimately wasted. China is second with 140 cubic km and Pakistan third with 55 cubic km.
Globally, one-third of the food produced is wasted, costing the world economy about $750 billion (more than Rs 47 lakh crore), the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation’s report said. It said Asian countries, especially India and China, were the worst culprits causing loss of 1.3 billion tonnes of food every year.
India is a significant contributor on account of both pre and post harvest waste in cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables.
Replying to a parliamentarian’s question, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar recently told Parliament that agriculture produce to the tune of Rs 50,000 crore---40% of the total produce---was wasted every year in the country.
In terms of overall food waste—agricultural produce, poultry and milk—India ranks seventh, with the Russian Federation at the top of the list. India’s lower ranking is because most of the countries ranking above it utilise much of their land in raising poultry, while a major chunk of land in India is under agriculture. That is why the highest wastage of cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables occurs in India.
Meat accounts for just four percent of the food wastage but contributes 20% in the economic cost of the wastage. Wastage of vegetables and fruits is 70% of the total produce, but it translated into only 40% of the economic losses.
Also, rice crop emits methane, a potent global warming gas, because of the decomposition of organic matter in submerged paddy fields. Therefore, its wastage means bigger environmental impact, the report added.
“We simply cannot allow one-third of all the food we produce to go waste or be lost because of inappropriate practices, when 870 million people go hungry every day," food agency's director general Jose Graziano da Silva told reporters.