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Hunger Pangs: CURB FOOD WASTAGE, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 18 Nov, 2013 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 18 November 2013

Hunger Pangs


By Dhurjati Mukherjee

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in its recently released report has estimated that around one-third of the food is wasted while around 870 million people go hungry daily. In Asia particularly wastage of cereals is a significant problem with major impacts on carbon emissions and water and land use. Thus, with food wastage becoming a serious global issue, the policy makers need to put on their thinking caps.

Evincing surprise at the fact that 1.3 billion tonnes food was wasted annually, the report pointed out that “in less than 37 years, another two billion will be added to the global population. The big question being: “How on earth will we feed ourselves in the future?” It found that 54 per cent of the world’s food wastage occurs upstream during production, post-harvest handling and storage, while 46 per cent happens downstream at the processing, distribution and consumption stages.

In India, we need to take special note. The recent spurt in prices of onions has brought to the fore the need for preservation of cereals as also fruits and vegetables. Sometime back there were reports and photographic evidence of large quantities of foodgrain being wasted due to lack of storage facilities, when hunger continues to persist in the country. Sadly, while a number of States could have improved their economic position if proper and adequate storage and processing facilities existed with them, little effort is being made.  

Apparently, around 30 per cent of vegetables and fruits are rendered unfit for consumption due to spoilage after harvesting. The Agriculture Minister told Parliament recently that 40 per cent of the total produce is wasted which accounts for anything around Rs 45,000 to Rs 50,000 crores on a conservative estimate.

 However, according to a study by ASSOCHAM, the annual post-harvest loss of these highly perishable commodities is estimated to be around Rs 2 lakh crores due to lack of food processing units and modern storage facilities. In fact, the Saumitra Chaudhuri Committee, constituted by the Planning Commission in 2012, had estimated the country’s cold storage requirement as 61.3 million tonnes as against the present capacity of around 30 million tonnes. With over a year gone by precious little has been done.    

 It goes without saying that the magnitude of post-harvest losses in fruits and vegetables can be minimized with proper cultural operations, harvesting and transportation and last but not the least storage facilities and post-harvest treatments. The total cold storage capacity in the country may be around 31-32 million tonnes presently, after an increase of around 8 million tonnes during the 11th Plan period, which is only around 13 per cent of the total fruits and vegetables produced in the country.

 Moreover, most of this facility is centred around wholesale markets but a major volume of fruits and vegetables is sold in local or regional markets, where no such facility exists. As such, there is considerable wastage in these areas. Though the Government is focussing on post-harvest management and the National Horticulture Mission (NHM) is being strengthened in this regard, experts believe that the additional cold storage facilities could be anything around 35 million tonnes.       

 As per statistics of the NHM, West Bengal is a leader in horticulture, accounting for 10.5 per cent production followed by Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh with 9.6 per cent each and Tamil Nadu with 8.9 per cent. But a lot needs to be done in this regard by the other States in the country such as Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar etc.

 The ASSOCHAM report has also focussed on the need for good refrigeration facilities in vehicles used for transporting raw fruits and vegetables to markets, scattered nature of production, sometimes in isolated places and a long marketing channel with many intermediaries in the supply chain.  The development of horticulture has been rightly emphasized but post-harvest management infrastructure in several districts needs to be immediately considered.

 The National Vegetable Initiative introduced by the Government in 2011-12, some States benefitted. Mention may be made in this connection of West Bengal and Punjab where horticulture development was geared up. However, what is needed at this juncture is the building of cold storages on a priority basis and also encouraging the private sector to come forward in this regard.

 At a time when the Food Security Act has become a reality, there would be need for more foodgrains and, as such, proper storage would go a long way to achieve this objective of making food available to the impoverished sections of society. As is well known, the State will have to provide 80 crore Indians with grain at 10 per cent of the market price. Added to this aspect, scientific methods of preserving fruits and vegetables would also help in increasing exports and adding valuable revenue to the national exchequer.

Coming to the question of food processing, it is well known that value addition of our agricultural produce is very much necessary. India has both the raw materials and the technology in this regard and should give top priority to this aspect. To start with, at least 50 districts should be singled out for setting up such food processing facilities and all necessary support provided both by both the Central and State Governments.

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) should immediately be directed to ensure that warehouses be built in each district or at least those should be singled out where agricultural activity is vibrant and cold storages are needed so that foodgrains could be stocked in proper manner and not be allowed to languish in open places. Young entrepreneurs having necessary technical expertise should be roped in to tackle such projects.

The need for ensuring balanced regional development can only become a reality if food processing units are set up in rural areas – preferably near to the urban centres or railway stations. This would take care of not just food wastage and bringing down the costs of preservation but also help promote agro-based industries and generate employment, thereby boosting up the rural economy.    


One is reminded of a Supreme Court directive not very long back for free distribution of foodgrains to millions of hungry people. In that case, the bench of Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma aptly observed: “If this is the position, then increase the storage facility by constructing godowns in every district…. .If due to lack of storage facility, foodgrains are rotting and getting wasted, then distribute it free to those hungry”.  There should be no ambiguity. ---INFA                    

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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