It’s a grim paradox; a country that struggles to feed its starving population also wastes a lot of food. This contradiction puts India in a piquant situation: It produces more, wastes more while more people go hungry. On one hand, India ranks 103rd in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) while on the other, the average households waste 50 kg of food per person per year in the land where “Annapoorna” is the revered Goddess of food and nourishment. Ironically, 14% of the population is undernourished. Highlighting this grim scenario, the Food Waste Index Report 2021 says that the household food waste in India is about 68.7 million tonnes a year. The report, prepared by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has estimated that, globally, nearly 17% of all food available for consumption was wasted in 2019. During that year, over 690 million people had to go hungry. The total food waste amounted to a whopping 931 million tonnes of food sold to households, retailers and restaurants globally. Around 23 million trucks of 40-tonne capacity each would be needed to transport this waste and if they stood bumper to bumper, they would circle the Earth seven times! For a long time, it was assumed that food wastage in homes was a significant problem only in developed countries but this myth has been debunked now. Regardless of their income levels, all countries have reported significant levels of food wastage, a problem that is as serious as food shortage. Food wastage is also linked to climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
Reducing food waste would cut greenhouse gas emissions, slow the destruction of nature through land conversion and pollution, enhance the availability of food, reduce hunger and save money. Food loss and waste are estimated to cause about $940 billion per year in economic losses. Reductions can save money for farmers, companies, and households. As of now, none of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement mentions food waste. Countries can raise climate ambition by including food systems in the NDCs. It must be pointed out that the governments alone cannot achieve targets of reduction in food wastage. It has to be a combined effort by the citizens, businesses and governments. A government-commissioned study in 2016 estimated that India spends almost Rs 1.5 lakh crore on cheap and free foodgrains each year but a staggering Rs 92,651 crore is lost in farm produce wastage. There is an urgent need for developing integrated nationwide supply cold chains for agricultural products involving public and private sector players. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that over 40% of food produced is wasted in India, costing $14 billion every year.
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