Turning challenges of food insecurity into opportunity

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Turning challenges of food insecurity into opportunity

Tuesday, 03 October 2023 | Takayuki Hagiwara

Food loss can impact food security and nutrition by influencing the four aspects of food security: food availability, access, utilisation, and stability

Food insecurity, hunger and environmental degradation are being aggravated by food loss and waste, globally. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that — in terms of economic value — 14 per cent of the world’s food is lost from post-harvest up to, but not including, the retail level. In India, 4-6 % of cereal and 5-12 % of vegetables are being lost every year.

FAO on the fourth International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste (IDAFLW), calls upon the need to adopt the Food Loss Index (FLI) methodology and monitor losses throughout the supply chain from production to consumption. In collaboration with FAO, IASRI-ICAR has estimated the FLI for India. These estimates are based on the three national-level surveys conducted by the Ministry of Food Processing Industries to estimate the harvest and post-harvest losses of major crops and commodities in the country. India has been a torchbearer for the world as the only country that has established a robust system of regular surveys for monitoring food losses. These surveys conducted in India have provided the foundations for the development of the FLI methodology globally and for the technical support, FAO provides to countries across the world.

Food loss is a recurring issue due to several causes stemming from different stages of the food supply chain and socio-economic factors. To address these issues and to ensure food security in the country, mitigating the challenges along the supply chain is critical. FAO works closely with the government and relevant bodies to identify these challenges and find solutions. Food Loss, a leading cause of Hunger, Food Insecurity and Climate Change. Food loss can impact food security and nutrition by influencing the four aspects of food security: food availability, access, utilization, and stability. As per FAO’s report, India’s food loss percentage stands at approximately 4.5%.

The highest levels of food loss occur in nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, meat and fish. It is also estimated that 8 to 10 % of global greenhouse gases are generated by the food that ends up in landfills. This results in unstable climate conditions thereby affecting crop yields, reducing the nutritional crop quality and supply chain disruptions.

Food Loss in India

Inadequate storage and transportation infrastructure coupled with post-harvest losses contribute to a substantial amount of food loss in the country. The fragmented and complex supply chain with multiple intermediaries involved further escalates the problem leading to food loss at almost every stage. 

Food loss is a pervasive issue resulting in critical economic, social, and environmental implications in the country, limiting India’s ability to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Way forward

FAO draws attention to the critical need to measure post-harvest losses across the country. This approach aligns with achieving SDG 12, Target 12.3 which seeks to halve per-capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses, and SDG 2 — Zero Hunger.

FAO firmly believes that it is crucial to identify the channels where significant losses occur. Disaggregation of data at subnational levels throughout the supply chain will help locate loss points and their impact. This, in turn, will support targeted intervention and necessary aids. A critical requirement for effective decision-making is improved data, which can drive innovation, promote best practices, and optimize resource allocation.

Addressing India's food loss challenge requires a comprehensive and coordinated effort from various stakeholders, including the government, farmers, food processors, retailers, and consumers. Improvements in localised infrastructure, storage, transportation, processing, packaging, market linkages, and awareness campaigns to change consumer behaviour, are critical.

It is essential to identify the channels in harvest and post-harvest operations in which substantial losses are taking place for further technological interventions. Food loss is a global challenge. Countries must adopt the globally agreed methodology and measurement techniques for the computation of FLI which also provides a platform for global comparability and cross-learning opportunities.

Reducing food loss will help conserve resources and reduce the environmental footprint associated with food production and disposal. FAO firmly believes that India as the leader for the Global South can address this issue and demonstrate a way forward in reducing food loss that is essential to achieving efficient, inclusive, sustainable, and resilient agrifood systems for better production, better nutrition, better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind.

(The writer is a country head & representative of FAO in India; views are personal)

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