Skip to main content

Wasting a kg of wheat, rice means wasting up to 3,500 litres of water


By Moin Qazi*
India grows enough food to meet the needs of its entire population, yet is unable to feed millions of them, especially women and children. The country ranks 100th out of 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2017. In fact, it has consistently ranked poor. Even as millions of Indians go to sleep on an empty stomach, the country wastes food worth a whopping Rs 58,000 crore in a year — about seven per cent of its total food production. It is lost during production, processing, retailing and consumption.
One of the major ways of addressing food insecurity is controlling wastage. It’s the most obvious place to start. India is the second largest producer of vegetables and fruit but 25 per cent to 30 per cent of it is wasted due to inadequate logistical support, lack of refrigerated storage, supply chain bottlenecks, poor transport and underdeveloped marketing channels. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) puts this figure at around 40 per cent — worth around $8.3 billion.
Twenty-one million metric tonnes of wheat — almost equal to Australia’s production — rots each year due to improper storage. According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce, the country experiences a post-harvest loss of Rs 2 lakh crores annually due to lack of food processing units and storage facilities. Without improvements to its “cold chain” infrastructure, from farm harvest to table, India’s food problems will remain highly critical.
The World Bank recently warned that 60 per cent of the country’s food subsidies do not reach the poor; they are sponged by middlemen. It is high time the government made some fundamental changes. Reforming the faltering public distribution system or plugging the leaks that siphon precious aid destined for the hungry and malnourished is overdue.
The Food Corporation of India (FCI) was set up in 1964 to offer impetus to price support systems, encourage nationwide distribution and maintain sufficient buffer of staples like wheat and rice but has been woefully inadequate to the needs of the country. Around one per cent of GDP gets shaved off annually in the form of food waste. The FCI has neither the warehouse capacity nor the manpower to manage this humongous stockpile of foodgrains. Every year, the government purchases millions of tonnes of grain from farmers for ensuring they get a good price and for use in food subsidy programmes and to maintain an emergency buffer. The cruel truth is that most of it has to be left out in the open, vulnerable to rain and attacks by rodents, or stored in makeshift spaces, covered by tarpaulin sheets, creating high rates of spoilage. Several countries are now using metal grain silos to guard against fungus ruining grain stock.
According to the agriculture ministry, Rs 50,000 crore worth of food produced is wasted every year in the country. One million tonnes of onions vanish on their way from farms to markets, as do 2.2 million tonnes of tomatoes. Tomatoes get squished if they are packed into jute sacks. Overall, five million eggs crack or go bad due to lack of cold storage. Just three states — Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana — grow most of India’s grain, and the food has to be transported to far-flung areas.
A study undertaken by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (2013) highlights that the underlying cause of post-harvest loss in the country, is lack of infrastructure for short-term storage, particularly at the farm level, as well as the lack of intermediate processing in the production catchments. If there are no proper roads linking fields to markets, farmers cannot easily sell their surplus produce, which may then spoil before it can be eaten. Improving road and rail capacity enables farmers to reach buyers — and fertilisers and other agricultural inputs to reach farmers.
The study estimated that around 67 million tones — of the value of around Rs 92,000 crores — are wasted in India every year. That’s more than the national average of Britain, the entire food requirement of all of Bihar for a year. In terms of monetary value it is nearly two-thirds of the amount that the government needs to feed 600 million poor Indians with subsidised ration under the National Food Security programme.
A recent study conducted by the Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata has uncovered that only 10 per cent of perishable produce get cold storage facility in India. These are mostly used for potatoes to meet India’s robust demand for chips. This, along with inappropriate supply chain management, has resulted in India becoming a significant contributor to food wastage both at pre and post-harvest waste in cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables. The study estimates that India needs storage facilities for another 370 million metric tonnes of perishable produce.
Apart from the wastage of the food produced, the resources lost in the form of inputs during food production are also considerable. According to the United Nations, India is estimated to use more than 230 cubic kilometre of fresh water annually — enough to provide drinking water to 100 million people a year — for producing food items that are ultimately wasted. Besides this, nearly 300 million barrels of oil used in the process is also ultimately wasted.
Meeting the food needs of a growing population in India (1.7 billion by 2050) while reducing food loss and waste poses a serious challenge. Wasting a kilogramme of wheat and rice would mean wasting 1,500 and 3,500 litre of water respectively that is consumed in their production.
The World Economic Forum cautions that food shortages are likely to cause one of the biggest risks to global stability over the next decade following extreme risks posed by climate change.
In recent years, numerous initiatives and interventions have been undertaken by the Indian government, local and international actors to target food losses and waste across the agricultural value chain. For instance, the Indian government is seeking to streamline and modernise agricultural value chains, through reformation of the PDS to reduce waste and loss associated with the distribution and storage of foodgrains. The government is also extending support for the setting up of cold chain projects whereby 138 cold chain projects have been installed.
Studies have also indicated that on-farm interventions can contribute to reducing food losses and waste. For instance, a pilot study sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has revealed food loss reductions of around 60 per cent during field trials testing low-cost storage techniques and handling practices. Another study undertaken in Punjab that focuses on the harvesting of kinnow (a citrus fruit) demonstrates how on-farm food losses decreased from 10 per cent to only 2 per cent when a combination of harvesting techniques were used.
India has developed some modern supply chains linked to food processing companies, such as NestlĂ©, Pepsi Unilever and Del Monte. But these handle only a fraction of the country’s perishable food.
India needs to mobilise large-scale investment into cold storage, refrigerated transport and other modern logistics to modernise its food supply chain. That is the prime need if we want to really address the problem in right earnest. More than investment we need a strong will of the political class and imaginative thinking on part of the policy planers. We have the resources but need to summon our determination. Fixing this problem will solve many of our related issues, particularly poverty, hunger and malnutrition, and open the gates to a new and prosperous India.

*Development expert

Comments

TRENDING

Global Ambedkarites in deep shock over killing of Buddhist Ambedkarite youth in Nanded

Joint  Ambedkar International Mission and Ambedkar Association of North America statement on killing of an Ambedkarite Buddhist youth for celebrating Dr Ambedkar Jayanti (birth anniversary) in his village on 1st June 2023 in Bondhar Haveli village, Nanded, Maharashtra: *** Every single public event hosted by any social or political organization in Maharashtra is not completed without citing Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and yet an Ambedkarite Buddhist youth, Akshay Bhalerao was brutally murdered for celebrating Dr Ambedkar Jayanti in the village Bondhar, Nanded, Maharashtra by dominant caste goons. Caste Atrocities are common in such villages where the Scheduled Castes and Buddhists are daily humiliated, mocked, or abused with caste slurs and women subjected to sexual violence. 

How this top Maoist leader couldn't extricate completely from the Left adventurist line

By Harsh Thakor  On the 31st of May Katakam Sudarshan, known as Comrade Anand, breathed his last, at the age of 69. Anand was a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoists) and an important leader of the revolutionary movement of India.

Discussion on making school education meaningful to vulnerable communities

ActionAid note on workshop to boost National Curriculum Framework operations: *** Leading educationists and activists striving to make education meaningful to vulnerable communities gathered in Delhi to discuss the National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE). Acting in response to the call of the NCF Steering Committee appointed by the Ministry of Education, Government of India, ActionAid Association had organised the meeting to gather feedback on the draft NCFSE. This is part of ActionAid Association’s commitment to promote inclusive and gender-responsive education. The two-day national workshop titled ‘NCF Perspectives: Seeking Feedback on National Curriculum Framework (NCF)’ on May 30 and 31, 2023, was held at India International Centre, New Delhi. The workshop aimed to ensure a structured approach to gathering feedback from key stakeholders and enhancing their active participation in shaping the response sought by the Government of India. Stakeholders representing e

Abrogation of Art 370: Increasing alienation, relentless repression, simmering conflict

One year after the abrogation by the Central Government of Art. 370 in Kashmir, what is the situation in the Valley. Have the promises of peace, normalcy and development been realised? What is the current status in the Valley? Here is a detailed note by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties , “Jammu & Kashmir: One Year after Abrogation of Art. 370: Increasing Alienation, Relentless Repression, Simmering Conflict”:

Release of dabang neta: Rule of law can't be allowed to be slave to political rhetoric

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  When we look to politicians for solutions and politics as the 'final solution' for every evil then we are disappointed most of the time. In politics, we knowingly or unknowingly become part of the propaganda tool of the ruling elite which exists everywhere across different castes. We often provide issues and talk about them in binaries which suit our elites. The minorities among the marginalised who have no political space and representation rarely get heard by these majoritarian parties whose agenda remain power communities. Every political party in today's time is following the 'successful' formula of 'democracy' which is keeping the 'powerful' 'jaatis' with them leaving aside the marginalised one. The BJP started this but yes they cobbled together all other communities too through a diverse narrative.

J&K RTI activist denied opportunity to address audience, bring forward critical issues

Statement by Er. Irfan Banka, Founder of J&K RTI Foundation and convener of the Nalae Ferozpora Bachav Movement, regarding the incident of official misconduct during the My Town My Pride Jan Abhiyan Program and communication to Raj Bhavan: *** Er. Irfan Banka, a prominent RTI Activist and advocate, has come forward to address an incident of misconduct that occurred during the My Town My Pride Jan Abhiyan Program held at Mugam Town Hall in  Budgam. Additionally, Er. Irfan Banka has communicated the matter to Raj Bhavan, seeking appropriate action. During the event, Er. Irfan Banka was denied the opportunity to address the audience and bring forward critical issues concerning the people and services in the community, including waste management, traffic management, and the achievement of sustainable development goals. The incident involved the Additional Registrar Co-operative Kashmir, who not only prevented Er. Irfan Banka from speaking but also subjected him to public humiliation. E

Why are 17 Indian cos, including Sterlite, blacklisted by Norway bank

By Venkatesh Nayak* Readers may recall the gory incidents that took place at Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) in Tamil Nadu in the southern part of India on 22 May, 2018. Thirteen protesters died on the spot when the police opened fire to disperse an assemblage of thousands of local residents and representatives of civil society groups. They were protesting against the adverse environmental impact of the industrial operations of Sterlite Copper which runs a copper smelter plant in the area. Accusations against the company have ranged from polluting local water resources to plans for expanding the installed capacity of the plant without the necessary environmental clearances. A ground report published in The Wire recently, mentions the decision taken by Norges Bank a few years ago to not invest funds from Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) in Sterlite “due to an unacceptable risk of complicity in current and future severe environmental damage and systematic human rights violations

Sengol imbroglio suggests reason why Modi, BJP don't respect modern Indian history

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  The new parliament building opened on February 28. It looks it is not the Parliament but part of #Pratinidhisabhas ' started by earstwhile #princelystates in India. The #BJP for long has been acting as if India is a #Kingdom and Modi ji the new #King of India. Even at the coronations of Kings, you find a large number of people, and dignitaries but look at the opening ceremony we have only one face as if he build everything. Is it the dream of a republic.

Danger ahead: Smartphones making teens sexually smart, but mentally disturbed

By Harasankar Adhikari  We live in a digitally globalised society. Bombarded consumerism and imitation of foreign cultures and practises reshape our everyday lives. Life choices and lifestyles are the driving forces of modernity at present. People of almost all ages are within this realm and rhythm of consumerism for happiness.

Cave of Spleen - a feminist perspective: Status of women in early 18th century England

The Cave of Spleen: Aubrey Beardsley's illustration for Pope's “The Rape of the Lock” By Pragya Ranjan  "The Rape of the Lock" by Alexander Pope published in 1712 is a mock-heroic narrative which satirically glorifies trivial incident of cutting of locks of protagonist Belinda. This poem was written in the Augustan Era (1660-1784) which is marked by the period of scientific reason and rationality, whose effect can be seen on the writers of those times. This timeline is particularly important to analyse the episode of the Cave of Spleen.