30% crops damaged in transit
For India, the third largest producer of food in the world, declining crop yields isn’t the only reason for today’s food crisis; the amount of food lost due to damage and wastage every year, is an equally important reason.
Be it pulses, fruits or vegetables, India, which holds a major share in their worldwide production, loses substantial quantities every year due to poor post-harvest handling, transportation and management.
Far from maximising the utilisation of its agricultural produce; the government estimates that on an average 15-30 per cent of the country’s food gets damaged while on its way from the farm to the fork.
Quoting a 2007 report by Rabo India Finance, the Agriculture Ministry admitted last year that Rs 58,000 crore worth of agricultural food items get wasted every year because of lack of refrigerated transport and cold storage facilities.
Vision 2025 of the Central Institute of Post Harvest Engineering and Technology (CIPHET) has more detailed data. It notes that overall, every year there are post harvest losses to the tune of 10-40 per cent depending upon the commodity. These losses are attributed to a combination of factors affecting the way the farm produce is grown, harvested, cleaned, handled, dried/processed, stored, milled/processed, and marketed.
They are either outright physical losses, or deterioration of quality, which reduces the commercial value of the farm produce.
In this context, the CIPHET believes fruits are the worst hit. While India is the second largest producer of fruits in the world, CIPHET estimates that 25-40 per cent of the total production of fruits is lost due to spoilage at various post-harvest stages, thus the per capita availability of fruits is reduced to around 80g per day which is almost half the requirements for a balanced diet.
Similarly, despite being the second largest producer of vegetables in the world (next to China), India, it is estimated loses around 20-25 per cent of its total vegetables to poor post harvest practices. Not surprisingly then, less that 2 per cent of the total vegetables produced in the country are commercially processed as compared to 70 per cent in Brazil.
And inadequate and inefficient post harvest storage and processing facilities make us lose about 10 per cent in food grains every year. C Ramasamy, Vice-Chancellor, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, has argued that of this, 6.5 per cent occurs during storage.
The CIPHET points out that bulk storage facilities existing in India are inadequate to meet the increasing storage requirements due to rising production of food grains. Significant losses are recorded during transportation of food grains due to improper stitching of bags, multiple handling, usage of hooks and pilferage. For example, more than 6 per cent of rice is lost due to poor storage design and practices.
It has argued that boosting agro processing activities and harnessing cutting edge technologies like biotechnology, nanotechnology, non-thermal processing could help us utilise our limited agricultural produce better.