Lost in Transit? Where Has All Our Foodgrains Gone?

Although steeped in poverty, the reported ‘damage’, ‘loss’ and ‘wastage’ of foodgrains in India is quite massive. It is an issue that needs to be looked into urgently especially as the population is rising alarmingly and the people don’t have enough food even though currently we produce enough. By 2025, India is on the way to becoming the most populous country in the world. There is no doubt that appropriate measures should be planned and implemented so as to feed its ever-increasing population. No doubt, providing ample quantity of food and nutrition to its growing population is a very serious challenge. But food loss and wastage is a problem that is adding to the acute food shortage in the country, where many people do not even get to eat two square meals a day. According to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), one-third of the food production is written off as either damaged in storage or lost in transportation and supplies.

Some facts on food wastage in India

  • According to the 2013 Global Hunger Index, India ranks 63rd, out of the 78 hungriest countries.
  • One-third of the world’s malnourished children live in India
  • Almost 40% of the total food production in the country is written off as lost in transit, is wasted by consumers or is damaged, according to  United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
  • The total valued of food wasted in India a year is valued at Rs 58,000 crore.
  • It has also been reported that almost every year, India loses about 21 million tonnes of wheat, which is almost equivalent to the total wheat production of a country like Australia. The reason being inadequate storage facilities and poor distribution.
  • The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) also has reported that over Rs 1,00,000 crore is lost annually of farm produce.
  • 40% of total fruits and vegetables in India is wasted between the grower and consumer
  • Also, in India, it is reported that on an average an Indian consumes about 37 grams of quality protein, while it is 48.7 grams in low-income countries and 101.7 grams in high-income countries. Thus, there is a huge difference in food consumption as well.

Causes of food wastage in India

Food wastage in India, throughout the whole food supply chain, from farmers to consumers, are due to various reasons, such as:

  • Natural calamities
  • Lack of storage space
  • Improper care
  • Wastage by consumers
  • Improper post harvest management
  • Lack of infrastructural facilities
  • Poor transportation facilities
  • Inadequate packaging
  • Lack of refrigerated transport
  • Lack of awareness
  • Stock management inefficiencies
  • Inefficient distribution
  • Corruption

How to tackle the problem

The amount of food wasted in India is staggering. This is the food that could have been used to feed India’s growing population. Food wastage is also associated with waste of land, water and energy resources. Also, wastage of food grains, fruits, vegetables have also led to the spiralling of prices in recent years.

The Government of India has already come up with the Food Security Act 2013, which is also referred to as Right to Food Act. The main objective of this Act is to provide subsidized food grains to almost two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people. The Government has done much to increase food production, may be because it involves just subsidies only, but nothing is done to prevent the so-called damage and loss, simply because nobody is responsible and accountable.

India can also follow the measures adopted by other countries to tackle the situation. While China has a storing capacity of 150 million tonnes of grains, India has it only for 60 million tonnes. There should be more infrastructural facilities related to food storage, warehouses, godowns, packaging and logistics and the existing facilities should be improved. Japan is a country which has tackled the problem of food wastage in the country in a very efficient way by implementing various laws like Container & Packaging Recycling Law, Food Wastes Recycling Law and a law on promoting green purchase. Such laws can enable the agriculturists and the industries to work towards efficient uses of resources. Major reforms need to be undertaken in the functioning of the Food Corporation of India.

Stringent laws and effective administration (implementation) are what India still needs in order to deal with the problem, or rather any of our socio-economic issues for that matter. Who will get it done?