Food Waste

India produces enough food to meet the needs of its entire population yet, it is unable to feed millions of them, especially women and children. India ranks 100th among 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2017, where it has consistently ranked poorly. Despite the fact that every twelfth Indian has to sleep on an empty stomach, the country wastes food worth a whopping Rs 58,000 crores in a year, about seven percent of its total food production. It is lost   during harvest, or on the journey from farm to markets, that is production, processing, retailing and consumption Lack of cooling facilities is the major reason for crops perishing after harvest.

As you trudge through the mire of any government-run food auction yard, or mandi, piles of supposedly fresh produce lies everywhere, rotting in the sun and competing with mangy dogs and scampering mice for your attention

One of the major ways of enhancing food security in India is by simply controlling wastage. It is the most obvious place to start. India is the second-largest producer of vegetables and fruits but about 25-30 percent 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 percent, worth around $8.3 billion.

Twenty-one million metric tonnes of wheat, which is almost equal to Australia’s annual 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 a lack of food processing units and storage facilities. Without making urgent improvements to its ‘cold chain’ infrastructure, India’s food problems will remain highly critical.

The World Bank recently stated that nearly 60 percent of the country’s food subsidies do not reach the poor; they are syphoned off by the middlemen. It is high time that the government made some fundamental changes. Reforming the faltering public distribution system or plugging the loopholes in it 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 its performance has been woefully inadequate, in comparison to the needs of the country. Around one percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) gets shaved off annually in the form of food waste. The FCI has neither a warehouse capacity nor the manpower to manage this humongous stockpile of foodgrains.

Every year, the government purchases millions of tonnes of grain from the farmers to ensure that they get a good price for their produce, for numerous food subsidy programmes and to maintain an emergency buffer. The cruel truth, however, is that most of the produce is left out in the open, vulnerable to rain and attacks by rodents or stored in makeshift spaces, covered by tarpaulin sheets, thus increasing the chances of spoilage. Several countries are now using metal grain silos to guard against fungus attacks on the grain stock.

It is estimated that 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 of India—Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana—grow most of India’s grains 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 due to the 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 likewise, fertilisers and other agricultural inputs to reach farmers.

The Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata, has uncovered that only 10 percent of the perishable produce has access to cold storage facilities 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 levels. The study estimates that India needs storage facilities for another 370 million metric tonnes of perishable produce.

Added to the wastage of food, there is a depletion of precious resources involved in its production. According to the United Nations, India is estimated to use more than 230 cubic kilometres of fresh water annually, for producing food items that will be ultimately wasted. To put this into context, this amount of water is enough to provide drinking water to 100 million people every year. Besides this, nearly 300 million barrels of oil used in the process are 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 kilogram of wheat and rice would mean wasting 1,500 and 3,500 litres of water, respectively, that is consumed in their production.

Despite being the world’s largest banana producer, it only holds 0.3 percent share of the global banana market. Production is fragmented compared to the large-scale commercial farms of its competitors, with small-hold farmers having little business or technical support. Less than 4 percent of India’s fresh produce is transported by cold-chains, compared to more than 90 percent in the UK. Better cold storage, improved infrastructure and education about food handling could help transform this situation.

The cost of delivering energy to remote, rural regions for running storage facilities is quite steep and this means that even when storage facilities are built, they may not be able to function. A lack of education on post-harvest practices often results in poor quality control and food being damaged during handling.

The government needs to tighten its public distribution system, which mainly supplies subsidised grain to the poor and modernise other areas, such as computerisation of outlets and satellite control over the movement of transport vehicles.

In recent years, numerous initiatives and interventions have been undertaken by the Indian government, and local and international actors to target food loss and wastage 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 the 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 also contribute towards 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 percent during field trials, testing low-cost storage techniques and handling practices. Another study, undertaken in Punjab, which focused on the harvesting of ‘Kinnow’ (a citrus fruit), demonstrated how on-farm food losses decreased from ten percent to only two percent when a combination of harvesting techniques was used.

India has developed some modern supply chains linked to food processing companies, such as Nestlé, Pepsi, Unilever and Del Monte but these handle only a fraction of the country’s perishable food produce.

India needs to mobilise large-scale investments in cold storage methods, refrigerated transport and other modern logistics to modernise its food supply chain. More than investment, a strong will by the political class and an imaginative thinking on the part of the policy-makers is needed.

Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades .He can be reached at


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One Comment

  1. Sally Dugman says:

    Receiving a check, one of many for the year from organizations, for $42,000 USD for Chesterfield Food Bank recently happened. Yes, the group gets many more $USD checks from other organizations.

    My girlfriend Janet Ward started a food bank with a few thousand dollars from a religious leader and a small walk-in closet. Now that very same food bank puts out more than a million meals a year. This is more than a $million US dollars a year worth of food for people who would otherwise starve or partially starve in my region of Massachusetts.

    I wrote a bit about it here:

    Putting Food On All Tables – Countercurrents
    Putting Food On All Tables. in Life/Philosophy — by Sally Dugman — June 29, 2017. High Plains Food Bank, USA. Please note that if you have hungry impoverished people in your region, you can find ways to get financial and food donations from various individuals and groups, such as farmers at markets or at their farms, …

    Here we are from Janet’s little start:
    Worcester County Food Bank | Home
    Welcome to Worcester County Food Bank, the region’s leading anti-hunger organization distributing over 5 million pounds of donated food and grocery product. [And our foodbank has hundreds of thousands of USD$ dondations coming in to keep it strong with all of this started by Janet on a shoestring budget. -E.]
    Worcester County Food Bank, Inc. – Feeding America…foodbank/worcester-county-food-bank-inc.html
    “Worcester County Food Bank and its network nourish healthy people and healthy communities through food distribution, collaboration and advocacy. Join us in creating a hunger-free community. ” Jean McMurray, Executive Director of Worcester County Food Bank. alttext. In the area served by Worcester County Food Bank …
    Worcester County Food Bank Fund to End Hunger at Greater ……/Worcester-County-Food-Bank-Fund-to-End-Hunger
    Worcester County Food Bank Fund to End Hunger. The Fund to End Hunger awards grants to nonprofit organizations that share the vision of creating hunger-free communities and work towards that goal. The Fund seeks to fund innovative and sustainable solutions to the problem of hunger through advocacy and programs …
    Worcester MA Food Pantries | Worcester Massachusetts Food Pantries … › Massachusetts Food Pantries
    Worcester MA Food pantries and food banks. We have the list of all food pantries in Worcester.

    Now, she hired Jean McMurray as her assistant direct and Jean is now the food bank director. She knows me well. I was instrumental in starting a volunteer farm dedicated to providing fresh vegetables to the food bank. It’s a nonprofit organization. She also knows of the efforts that my daughter and I have put into our/her food bank. We go way back in time. …
    Community Harvest Project – Volunteer farming for hunger relief
    Community Harvest Project is a non-profit farm that engages volunteers to grow fresh fruits and vegetables to provide to those experiencing hunger. Through our volunteer farming programs, education initiatives, and community partnerships, we bring thousands of community members together each year to improve access …

    Now Jean and I had a little chit-chat earlier this week. We both decided that it is unconscionable that children in India commit suicide from starvation and that older people die from it. We don’t like it in Bangladesh or anywhere, especially since it is not necessary.
    Suicide By A Hungry Teen In The Times Of $ 1.7 … – Countercurrents…/suicide-hungry-teen-times-1-7-billion-usd-loot-tycoons/
    Mar 1, 2018 – Alas, the country is busy over outraging the USD 1.7 billion fraud, and counting, that the Punjab National Bank has complained Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi of committing against it. So she did not get even that. The 13-year-old Dalit girl reportedly hung herself after starving for food for two days last Friday …

    So if starvation seems a problem to you, you need to find a kind someone who wants to make a nice income working in a food bank. Maybe someone whom you know knows someone else who might like to do this work for an income.

    It surely beats out this situation, which mostly involves children:
    More than 20 million people are at risk of starving to death. Will the ……20-million-people…starving-to-death…/c7d7703c-6b…
    Jul 17, 2017 – MORE THAN 20 million people in four countries are at risk of starvation in the coming months, in what the United Nations has called the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. But the global response to the emergency has been lacking, both from governments and from private citizens. As of Monday …

    So Jean said to me for people in India, Bangladesh and elsewhere located in the world to contact:
    The Global FoodBanking Network – Empowering the World to Defeat …
    Global Impact. The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) and its partners seek to nourish the world’s hungry through a united and passionate network of food banking organizations.

    [PDF]Global FoodBanking Network – My Rotary – Rotary International…/fact-sheet-global-foodbanking-network-and-rotary-internatio…
    Partnership background. Rotary’s service partnership with The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) provides opportunities to work together to create and support food banks around the world. Food banking is a proven solution to two critical global problems: world hunger and food waste. There is enough food to feed the …
    Careers – The Global FoodBanking Network
    We embrace a philosophy that recognizes and values diversity. It is our goal to attract and retain a talented and diverse workforce where all employees contribute to their full potential. GFN seeks humble, service-oriented, and results-driven professionals who can advance our vision of creating a global network of food banks …
    World Food Bank™ The Leader in Strategic Food Reserve …
    From soil to irrigation, from harvest to transport, from storage to financing, the World Food Bank seeks to integrate all sectors within our global agriculture systems and create a balanced and mutually-beneficial ecosystem that lifts small holder farmers out of poverty and allows for the efficient distribution of food to those who …
    U.S. Hunger Relief Organization | Feeding America®
    1 in 8 people struggle with hunger in the U.S. Feeding America is a hunger relief organization with a nationwide network of food banks feeding the hungry. Get involved.
    India FoodBanking Network
    India Food Banking Network offers a food management solution for excess food inventory and helps food businesses to timely save this surplus food products to feed those in need. IFBN recovers this surplus inventory of good quality packaged food from food industry and delivers it safely to Not for Profit organisations to …

    I’ll admit it that I get mad when people write articles about starvation and don’t do anything more past that act when so much more CAN be done. Instead, they need to get out of sorrow and apathy. They need to find people willing to be like Janet, Jean, so many others and me to change circumstances if they don’t like them as they are.

    So I recommend that people contact these above organizations and see about what they or others who they know can do to support meaningful change. Otherwise, the change will not happen. I can guarantee it.

    If you don’t like something — then fix it. It is that simple. If you want a food bank like this one, then make it with the help of the organizations that I cited. (Janet had no help except one person — a Bishop — when she started her food bank.)

    Check out:
    H-Town’s Big Apple: Houston Food Bank’s new location makes it the …
    CultureMap Houston
    News_Houston Food Bank_new warehouse