How to turn India's food waste problem into opportunity

Technology and innovative business models in supply chain management can help cure hunger in India

Updated: Jan 28, 2019 06:32:06 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

Before 2000, fresh produce was shipped from the production site to its destination on bread bulk ships, with general cargo vessels that had large refrigerated spaces. With growing affluence, especially in Asia, the rise in cookery shows and the advancement of grocery retailers, demand for perishable products has increased all year long. Food waste and loss amount to a reckless misspend of resources such as water, land, energy, labour and capital. On average, about one-third of food produced is lost or wasted globally (as per the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation). According to UN estimates, 40 percent of the food produced in India is either lost or wasted. This food wastage however, isn’t limited to one level alone but perforates through every stage; from harvesting, processing, packaging, and transporting to the end stage of consumption.

The major challenge for many developing countries like India is in the process that the food undergoes before it reaches the end-consumer. Although food wastage is a global problem, India stands a chance to convert this into an opportunity. A report by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation states that every third malnourished child is Indian. Even so, we are witness to this significant amount of food wastage that occurs because of gaps in the logistics supply-chain, which, if addressed, can help bring down the wastage in food.

The world’s second most populous country needs to reduce its food wastage to feed the 194 million Indians who go hungry daily. It is important that technology is adopted at every stage of the supply chain to overcome this problem. The innovative reefer-container technology has reformed the transportation of perishable goods, helping food remain fresh for over a month, enabling agriculture producers to safely send all products ranging from grapes to shrimps across geographies, efficiently.

A recent industry survey conducted by Maersk outlines that the demand for refrigerated products has been growing at a steady 18 percent over the past few years. It is expected to grow at 19 percent annually between 2017 and 2022. The top reefer container exports from India are fruits, vegetables, meat and fish; their requirements are very specific and deal with sorting, grading, processing and packing. The per capita availability of fruits and vegetables in the country is low, given the post-harvest losses are high. The primary blame for this is put on lack of adequate cold-chain infrastructure.

Planning in the supply chain can improve with technology, reducing transit time in shipping and logistics. In addition, multiple government initiatives are also assisting in building infrastructure for the food industry.

The government has acknowledged this and announced an investment of Rs 3,100 crore with a total of 101 new integrated cold chain projects. The Chhattisgarh government began developing multi-commodity cold storage chambers in October, for horticulture produce across key districts. They also announced a post-harvest management programme to establish a network of pack houses and cold storage, to help prevent the damage of perishable commodities including fruits, vegetables and flowers, in the entire state. This is promising for the industry. These are small steps, but they demonstrate the impact reefer technology and better processes can have on customary methods of logistics and trade.

Corporations need to understand the importance of technology and new business models that reduce food loss in the early stages of the supply-chain. Investments in the vibrant start-up ecosystem in India can also aid in addressing all the hindrances in the system with support of the latest logistics and supply chain technologies, blockchain, artificial intelligence, data monitoring, storage and packaging solutions. We can create great impact to the logistics value chain by discovering new solutions in association with pioneering start-up businesses.

The author is Managing Director, at Maersk Line – India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan & Maldives.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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