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Lise Grande
Lise Grande

Lise Grande | Just having enough doesn’t cut it

More than a billion tonnes of food is wasted every year. The UNDP India representative talks about what can be done

One in seven people across the globe goes to bed hungry. This, when some 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted every year. What’s worse, enormous land and water resources are dedicated to growing this food that never gets eaten. And this is why the United Nations (UN) this year chose the “Think. Eat. Save: Reduce Our Foodprint" theme for World Environment Day.

At an event in New Delhi to mark the World Environment Day on 5 June, Lise Grande said, India is home to about 25% of the world’s hungry poor. Grande is the UN resident coordinator and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative in India. We spoke to her about the problem of food wastage and how India can improve its track record of feeding its population of more than a billion. Edited excerpts:

How did the UN narrow down on this year’s theme for World Environment Day?

The 2013 theme responds to a major challenge of the day. Roughly one-third of the edible parts of food produced for human consumption get lost or wasted globally, which is about 1.3 billion tonnes per year.This is when one in every seven people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger.

Further, food waste is an enormous drain on natural resources and a contributor to negative environmental impacts. The global food production occupies 25% of all habitable land and is responsible for 70% of freshwater consumption, 80% of deforestation, and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. At least 500 million hectares of arable land, the size of South Asia, have been used to produce the food that is being wasted. It is the largest single driver of biodiversity loss and land-use change. When food is discarded, it ends up in landfills, which emit methane gas, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the globe.Our planet is struggling to provide us with enough resources to sustain its seven billion people.

What is the per capita food wastage around the world?

Per capita food wasted by consumers in Europe and North America is 95-115 kg/year. Together, this is more than the total net food production in sub-Saharan Africa and will be sufficient to feed the hungry of the world. Though this figure in countries such as India is only 6-11 kg/year, there is scope for substantial reduction in India too.

All of this can change by changing behaviour in high- to middle-income countries, and by improving supply chains where food gets spoiled before it reaches the consumer.

How many people in India are going hungry, or are malnourished?

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s “Status of Food Insecurity Report 2013", in the period 2010-12, 217 million Indians were undernourished, which is 17.5% of India’s population. Despite significant economic progress in the past decade, India is home to about 25% of the world’s hungry poor. According to government figures, around 43% of children under the age of 5 are malnourished and more than half of all pregnant women aged between 15 and 49 years suffer from anaemia.

What are some of the challenges in India specifically to reduce food wastage?

Based on the most reliable of currently available estimates, post-harvest losses in the food chain are the following proportion of total production in India: cereals: 3.5-6%, pulses: 4-6%, oilseeds: 3-10%, fruits: 5-18%, vegetables: 6-13%.

These are estimates of food “losses", which refer to the decrease in edible food mass throughout the part of the supply chain that specifically leads to edible food for human consumption. Food losses occurring at the end of the food chain (retail and final consumption) are rather called “food waste", which relates to retailers’ and consumers’ behaviour. There are no reliable estimates of food “waste" in India, but these are likely to be far lower than what is wasted in high-income countries.

Among the challenges faced by India in reducing food losses are inappropriate choices of crops and crop varieties; inadequate facilities for food processing and inadequate infrastructure for storage and transportation; and weak channels for marketing and distribution.

What are some of the best practices around the world to reduce food wastage and food losses? How do some of the policy initiatives in India compare?

The Indian 12th Five-Year Plan proposes to bring together six departments in a nationally coordinated programme to develop science and technology on food processing to reduce food loss and wastage. The Plan also proposes a scheme for setting up modern storage facilities under the PPP (public-private partnership) mode. The Plan will support these through “viability-gap funding". Nabard (the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) too promotes investment in storage infrastructure in remote villages. There have been recent policy initiatives to stimulate private sector investment in the food supply chain to reduce food loss. Planned investment in road/rail infrastructure and power generation, too, are expected to contribute to reducing food losses.

In addition, there are a few important initiatives in other countries which aim to influence consumer behaviour and reduce food waste at the retail/consumer end.

“Stop Wasting Food" (a movement) in Denmark gives guidance to consumers on how to avoid wasting food by shopping according to the daily needs of households, and promotes better household planning and shopping patterns in order to encourage a movement away from impulsive to rational food shopping and consumption patterns.

In the UK, the Waste Reduction Action Plan (WRAP) encourages leading retailers, brand owners and their supply chains to identify collaborative approaches towards reducing the amount of food and packaging waste that ends up in the household bin and ultimately, in the landfill. WRAP aims at reducing packaging waste and consumer food waste by carrying out R&D (research and development) work, by guidance on best practices and by promotion. WRAP partners with packaging manufacturers, retailers, brands, suppliers, research institutes, universities, design agencies and environmental and design consultants.

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