Reducing Food Loss and Waste in India
Source: Flickr, Chris Elt

A chapter in IFPRI’s flagship Global Food Policy Report written by Monica Schuster and Máximo Torero investigates how reducing food loss and waste can contribute to global food security and sustainability.  The chapter emphasizes the scale of food loss and waste globally which is currently estimated at between 27 percent (1.1 billion tonnes) to 32 percent (1.3 billion tonnes) of all food produced in the world. Reducing these food losses and waste will have numerous benefits and can help improve food security and contribute to the achievement of SDG 2 (end hunger, achieve food security) and 12 (ensure sustainable consumption and production). Considering that India experiences high levels of food insecurity and a scarcity of natural resources for agricultural production this chapter is extremely relevant to India.  

The chapter emphasizes that there is a significant lack of knowledge globally about the magnitude of food loss due to the different methodologies used in measuring food losses and that the extent of food loss and waste around the word varies significantly between countries and commodities. This lack of knowledge creates significant barriers to effective interventions. In order to overcome these, the chapter argues for the adoption of a value chain approach to food loss and waste which allows for analysis into the processes that cause food loss and waste at each stage of the value chain. As a starting point, the chapter proposes the Potential Food Loss methodology (PFL) as an inclusive methodology for quantifying food loss by encompassing both food losses (from the production to post-harvest stage), food waste (at the consumption stage), and the opportunity costs of production (natural resources used in production). In this context, the paper suggests a number of next steps that will allow for the long-term reduction in levels of food waste and loss; these include: the development of concrete targets at regional and country levels, the development of better methodologies for measuring food waste and using these to help address the micro- and macro- level causes of food loss and waste.

Studies conducted in India have produced widely varying estimates of the extent of food losses and waste. For instance, the FAO estimates that around 40 per cent of India’s fresh fruit and vegetables – worth around $8.3 billion – is lost before reaching consumers. By contrast, the Indian Government recently sponsored a study which estimated that only 5 percent of cereals and between 5-15 percent of fruits and vegetables are lost. These varying understandings of the magnitude of food loss and waste highlight the importance of developing effective methodologies that accurately measure loss and waste across the value chain in India. Evidence suggests that it is extremely important to locate where along the value chain these losses occur.  For example, the FAO estimates that per capita food loss (prior to reaching the consumer) and waste (when food has reached the consumer) in South Asia is around 110 and 11 kilograms respectively per year, which suggests that interventions that target the storing, transportation and processing of foods in this region could have relatively high returns.

In recent years, a number of important initiatives have emerged globally that aim to improve methodologies in measuring food loss and waste. A notable example of this is the IFPRI-FAO Technical Platform on the Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste which facilitates local, national and regional level food loss and waste prevention, reduction and measurement through information sharing and discussion between stakeholders. In order to develop a global accounting and reporting standard for quantifying food and associated inedible parts removed from the food supply, WRI is working on a The Food Loss & Waste Protocol. The development of these initiatives is likely to help reduce food losses and waste in India in the long term.

In recent years, numerous initiatives and interventions have been undertaken by the Indian Government, local and international actors that attempt to target food losses and waste across the agricultural value chain in India. For instance, the Indian Government is seeking to streamline and modernize agricultural value chains, through reformation of the Public Distribution System to reduce waste and loss associated with the distribution and storage of various food commodities. Another example is the support provided by the Indian government for the setting up of cold chain projects whereby 138 cold chain projects have been supported. This is especially relevant as it is estimated that India currently only has around 10 percent of the cold storage facilities it requires.

Studies have also indicated that on farm interventions in India can contribute to reducing food losses and waste. For instance a pilot study sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has shown food loss reductions of around 60 percent during field trials testing low-cost storage techniques and handling practices. Another study undertaken in Punjab focusing on the harvesting of Kinnow (a citrus fruit) illustrates how on farm food losses decreased from 10 percent to only 2 percent as different harvesting techniques were used.  As more accurate data on food losses and waste in India emerges, it is essential that successful interventions across the value chain are scaled up.  

To access the chapter ‘Toward a sustainable food system: Reducing food loss and waste’ please click here.  A video recording of Máximo Torerro presenting the chapter can be accessed here and the associated presentation can be accessed here.  How this can apply to global food security, see the Global Food Security Portal.

By Bas Paris


Photo credit:Flickr, Chris Elt