“Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry,” – Pope Francis on food wastage
Back in 1996, a report released by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) showed that enough food was being produced to meet the requirements of the entire population of the world, and yet, here we are, 20 years on, and 194.6 million people in India alone go hungry every day. So, supposing we are indeed producing more food than ever, a question that begs to be asked is: why are we not able to provide food to everyone today?
While we are definitely producing more food per person than what we were twenty years ago, one needs to understand that there are other factors that come into play, eventually resulting in scarcity of food for a sizeable population. These include uneven distribution of resources like land and water, poverty, waste of food, etc. In fact, food wastage is one of the most serious problems the world over today.
According to the facts put forth by FAO, one-third of the food produced in the world is wasted; that’s 1.3 billion tons of food being squandered each year, translating into losses of well over USD 750 billion. India is one of the major culprits when it comes to food wastage, as up to 40% of the food produced in the country goes waste, resulting in losses of over USD 8.3 billion. In a country plagued by food insecurity, where more than 190 million people go hungry every day, such wastage of food is nothing short of tragedy.
How Food Wastage Occurs?
Green revolution may have worked well in solving India’s food scarcity woes to a great extent, but at the same time, it has thrown up a new problem: the problem of plenty. That certain sections of the society have not been able to benefit from this, is another tragedy. Courtesy this problem of plenty, food wastage in India can be predominantly traced to issues like inappropriate supply chain management and lack of storage facility. About 40% fruits and vegetables and 20% food grains do not reach the consumers because of these issues. Besides that, tons of prepared food is wasted by hotels, during weddings and other social gatherings, and even in households.
Remember the amount of food that you left in your plate when you went to a restaurant the last time? It may have seemed harmless—leaving behind a ‘little’ food after you were full, but imagine the magnified impact of your habit over the years.
It’s important to understand that food wastage translates into issues for allied sectors as well. In India, for instance, wastage of rice also results in wastage of water used to grow paddy and electricity used to bring water to the field. Additionally, it even results in waste of manpower.
How to Reduce Wastage?
The need of the hour is to formulate laws to avoid wastage of food. The French Parliament, for instance, recently passed a bill which prohibits supermarkets from throwing away unused food. Instead, they will now have to get into an agreement with concerned organisations to redistribute this unused food.
While the onus is on the government to come up with such laws, there are many things that we can do at the individual level to reduce wastage of food. If all of us try and plan our meals properly, only buy those things that we require—especially perishable items, don’t prepare excess food which then has to be thrown out, start with small servings, and make it a habit to finish the food in our plate, it will definitely help in addressing the issue of food crisis in India.
India may have climbed up to 55th position in the 2015 Global Hunger Index (GHI), but we have a long way to go. If we are to achieve Zero Hunger as a part of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or successfully implement a food safety programme, issues like food wastage will have to be addressed at the earliest.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation is a NGO which serves mid-day meals to school children so that no child misses the opportunity to attend school due to hunger.