Why India’s Gargantuan Food Wastages must end?

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On average, an Indian citizen wastes about 50 kgs of food per year. Around 6.7 crore tonnes of food is wasted in India every year which has been valued at around Rs 92,000 crore. With the global pandemic, this could get aggravated further and may become a serious global concern. The industry is working towards viable and sustainable options for reducing waste or eliminating it altogether.

With limited resources and the ever-rising population, the need for food to feed the population is on the rise. Giving rise to the food processing industry with rapid growth, which is, in turn, increasing the number of byproducts that are being generated by the food processing industry. The byproducts aren’t being used optimally which leads to a lot of waste. This is becoming a concern globally as the remnants from processed foods can be processed into other useful products. The industry is working towards viable and sustainable options for waste reduction or eliminating it.

As per the UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021 about 8-10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed. Inger Andersen, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi, Kenya, shares, “Food waste from households, retail establishments and the food service industry totals 931 million tonnes each year. Nearly 570 million tonnes of this waste occurs at the household level. The report (UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021) also reveals that the global average of 74 kg per capita of food wasted each year is remarkably similar from lower-middle-income to high-income countries, suggesting that most countries have room to improve.”

Addressing a question in the Lok Sabha on February 2, 2021, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public distribution stated that 11,520 tonnes of food grains had rotted between 2017 and 2020 in various Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns, resulting in a loss of about Rs 15 crore. On average an Indian citizen wastes about 50 kgs of food per year. Around 6.7 crore tonnes of food is wasted in India every year which has been valued at around Rs 92,000 crore.

India is one of the largest growers and exporters of mangoes, the skin from mangoes is rich in phosphorus but they are discarded as waste, which otherwise could be used to make supplements, manufacturing safety matches, in the steel industry, in detergents, and production of light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Banana peels being rich in potassium can be used by the chemical industry, manufacturing fertilisers, soaps, and detergents and supplements. The residue of grains and vegetables during processing could be used to generate biomass that in turn could be used for the generation of biofuels and biogas. 

The industry is also trying to limit the amount of water that is being used and also trying to reduce the wastage of water in the process by reusing the water by treating the water. Water used in the food processing industry can be categorised into two main groups: (1) process functions (eg, water is being consumed in the process as a raw material), and (2) non-process functions (eg, water is being consumed as a utility for applications such as washing, cooling, and heating).

This year we celebrate the first-ever observance of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. It also comes during the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought about a global wake-up on the need to transform and rebalance the way our food is produced and consumed. 

Globally, about 14 per cent of food produced is lost between harvest and retail. Significant quantities are also wasted in retail and at the consumption level. In the case of fruits and vegetables, more than 20 per cent is lost.


Evaluation of challenges at hand

Deliberating on what India’s food processing industry is implementing to reduce food waste and thrive, Kuntal Sensarma, Economic Advisor, Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI), New Delhi, comments, “There is a need for authentic studies to access the level of wastage that is happening in the country. So far the Ministry of Food Processing wasn’t engaged in this, it was the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) that was conducting wastage studies. Some of the studies show that the wastage is very high, fruits and vegetables is around 5 per cent, fisheries it ranges from 8 per cent to 10.5 per cent. To support the schemes and to provide the basis for scaling up, a study has been assigned to The National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM).” 55 crops will be covered in the study and 142 districts will be covered.

He further mentions, “In the next financial cycle we want to launch a more focussed value-added/ value chain creation scheme. This scheme will help in boosting our exports and at the same time it will have a major impact on wastage management.” 

For the government schemes to become successful, these schemes need to be put into action at the ground level and then they can be scaled up through the different levels in the industry. Ashok Anand, Managing Director, Gopi Dehydrator, HSIIDC Kundli, Sonepat believes “As the government is pushing for mega food parks, there should be a common biomass treatment plant that can create biogas and can be used within the food industry itself”. Anand is also of the view that there is no waste in the food processing industry.

Anand says “In the food industry there is no waste, we have byproducts. We have our primary processing product and whatever is not processable is not waste or garbage it is a byproduct. It is high time that the industry does something to utilise these byproducts. On average there is about 9-21 per cent unprocessable portion, so we need to do something to utilise this. The use of unprocessable things in the food industry has a large scope.”


Reducing wastage of end products

Even though the food processing industry is growing, it is only a matter of time when the resources available will start depleting. Optimum management of resources and waste reduction is the way forward for the food industry. The Indian Food Banking Network is one such organisation that works with the food industry NGOs to provide food to the needy. With a presence in over 32 cities, its focus is mainly on the food waste in food businesses, the food banks pick up surplus food from these companies and redirect it to feed the vulnerable population. 

Vandana Singh, CEO, Indian Food Banking Network, Delhi, shares, “We haven’t established parallel systems of distribution, we have partnered with not-for-profit organisations who work at the ground level. These organisations are already present and are aware of the needy and vulnerable. We are kind of an intermediary that is linking the surplus food from the industry to the people who are in need. That is how we are able to connect both surplus food and food waste on one hand and hunger situations on the other hand.”


Striving towards better outcomes

The Indian food processing industry suffers not due to the lack of state-of-the-art equipment and technology that are deployed but from the lack of expertise or the know-how to provide the maximum output with better profit margins. A consortium of academia and industry can strengthen the foundations of the food processing industry leading to better output and higher profit margins and a drastic reduction in waste.

Dr Survat Kumar Singh, Professor, Department of Food Processing Engineering, Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (SHUATS), Allahabad, remarks, “In India, we waste power, water, and labour and there is no system in place to check it. We need to let our teachers learn this on their own or take training from the industry and come back to teach students about plant operations.”

“In the frozen food industry, the output should be 45 kg per man-hour, in India it is 20 kg, which is less than half. How are our products going to be cost-competitive? This is not going to work out for the industry. For it to work out for the industry, teachers need to be trained properly,” concludes Dr Singh.


Industry of the future

With 17 per cent of total food available to consumers in 2019, going into waste bins of households, retailers, restaurants, and other food services, according to the Food Waste Index Report 2021 published by the UNEP and partner organisation WRAP in March 2021. The weight roughly equals that of 23 million fully-loaded 40-tonnes trucks bumper-to-bumper, enough to circle the Earth seven times. 

Experts estimate the world population to be 9.7 billion by 2050, this is going to increase the demand for food further. It will become a challenge if preventive measures aren’t taken now. The Global Hunger Index (GHI) currently stands at 18.2, which is at a moderate level, down from a 2000 GHI score of 28.2, classified as serious. With the global pandemic, this could get aggravated further and may become a serious global concern. India’s GHI in 2020 was 27.2, which is an improvement from 38.9 in 2000. With the world uniting to end global hunger by 2030, the food industry needs to rise to the occasion and make sure that wastage is as good as zero and all mouths are fed.


Prabhat Prakash


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