India’s population currently stands at 1.21 billion (2014) and is expected to grow by 14.8% to 1.39 billion by 2020. A growth in population (both rural and urban) and increase in higher disposable income is a major driver of demand for agricultural products. The total food production in India is ~2,593.2 lakh tons. On the contrary, approximately 1.92 lakh tons of food is wasted in India. Thus, the challenge lies in reducing food wastage thereby making food available to the country’s growing population. Lack of access to adequate Cold Chain infrastructure is one of the major causes of food wastage. About 18 percent of country’s fruits and vegetables, worth INR 133 Billion, go to waste annually because of lack of Cold Chain facilities.
“Cold Chain is the key to tackle the loss of perishable produce”
Food wastage takes place in two stages: (1) Post-harvest Stage, where the produce rots before it reaches the consumer due to lack of adequate temperature controlled facilities (2) During transportation and storage from Farm to Fork, due to lack of sustainable cold chain infrastructure and network. More than 50 percent of the food that is wasted could benefit from refrigeration to extend life. Thus, investment in Cold Chain could noticeably reduce food wastage. Moreover, conventional Cold Chain techniques have caused environmental damages. More sustainable approaches in the Cold Chain could effectively reduce food wastage.
Setting up of efficient pre-cooling techniques at the site of production could prevent food from getting spoilt and reduce the post-harvest losses. Given the uncertainties in power supply across the country, solar power and thermal battery can be used as efficient power backups. According to a report by The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, setting up a network of liquid nitrogen energy hubs can help reduce food wastage and solve electricity shortages without the reliance on diesel. This technique is cheaper as liquid nitrogen is widely available in India.
“About 18 percent of country’s fruits and vegetables, worth INR 133 Billion, go to waste annually because of lack of Cold Chain facilities”
Large quantities of food is wasted due to quality standards that over-emphasize appearance. Approximately 40% of fresh fruits and vegetables are wasted because of the way they look. Several campaigns promoting the idea of ‘taste over waste’ have been successful in reducing further food wastage. For example, start-ups like Hungry Harvest, a community-supported agriculture venture in Maryland and Washington, D.C., that sells boxes of ugly and surplus produce at low cost to residential and institutional customers.
Some food loss is inevitable, but it must be utilised rather than just ending up in landfill. For example, using wasted food in a biogas plant, Anaerobic digesters convert food waste into biogas. This biogas can be used to produce electricity and heat. Reducing food loss is a national priority as it will help many starving people around the country. Cold Chain is the key to tackle the loss of perishable produce. Substantial investment in Cold Chain infrastructure and usage of sustainable technology can help reduce food wastage.