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FANVoices | Food Waste in India

Food Waste in India

By Adrija Das, FAN Ambassador for India

There isn’t perhaps a more pronounced expression of the more, richer and bigger aspects of our needs than in food. We are constantly producing, and consequently polluting, eating and wasting perpetually – agriculture along with cattle farming is the biggest contributor to greenhouse emission. We are also consuming ‘richer’ food in the form of more animal protein and fats and despite it, our appetite, still unsatiated, continues to grow bigger! By 2050, we will need 69% more calories than we did in 2006 to feed a population of 9.8 billion people.[1] While eating more nutritious food is desirable, the wastefulness in the process is entirely unnecessary and hence must be designed using the core principles of circular economy – maximising value of each resource and supporting regenerative processes.

While sustainable practices such as veganism and plant-based foods consumption are also on the rise,[2] we still lose USD 750 billion in food waste every year. It is favorable to eat plant-based, largely because the resources that go into producing animal food is much greater, as are the emissions from such activity. However, the utilisation of each bit of what is grown, no matter how much or how little resource it took to grow, is still relevant. In the absence of such an attempt, increasingly eating plant-based food alone will only add another category to an already unsustainable industry and will contribute to linear consumption.

Although there is a moral undercurrent and strong traditional values around preventing food waste in the country, the problem nevertheless remains grave in India. The state loses approximately USD 13,000 each year to food wastage, therefore, there is a tremendous commercial value to preventing such waste. Most of our waste occurs in the supply and distribution stages, which is attributed mostly to the lack of proper storage infrastructure. While there are multiple estimates available, it is clear that only about 4%-7% of produce in India goes through cold storages. This makes the sale and consumption window rather short.

There are two stages to addressing this problem, the first is extending the shelf life of fresh produce through cold storage and the next, ensuring that produce that has reached store shelves is consumed completely. While the first issue pertains significantly to building hard, public infrastructure, there’s scope for innovative problem solving by local initiatives to address wastage at the store, restaurants and household level.

Despite being the 5th largest economy in the world, India still has one of the highest numbers of underweight adults. In 2015-16, 19.6% men and 22.4% women were found underweight in the country. Therefore, it is desirable that we find a solution to this problem at the earliest possible.




Adrija Das is a FAN Ambassador and is pursuing a masters in public policy at the Hertie School, Berlin.  She co-founded Sensefull India, a food startup that created FMCG food products with sustainably sourced, local produce.