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India has insufficient data available on food loss and waste: Report

The paper points out an urgent need to develop a roadmap for managing the issue in India

Despite ranking 94/107 on the Global Hunger Index, there is dearth of data on food loss and waste in India and the limited available data is “fragmented and not comparable”, according to a study by World Resources Institute India (WRI India) and the Food and Land Use (FOLU) Coalition’s India platform. 

The study titled ‘Food Loss and Waste in India: The Knowns and The Unknowns’ is a systematic review of 106 peer-reviewed and gray literature publications on food loss and waste in India to provide insights into its extent (how much, where, and why), the social, economic, and ecological impacts, and available solutions.

Food loss in India

India is one of the few countries that have conducted two rounds of comprehensive national surveys on food loss in the last decade. The first survey was conducted by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in 2005-07 and the second survey was conducted by ICAR-  Central Institute of Post Harvest Engineering and Technology (CIPHET) in 2013-14.

The second survey revealed the estimated economic value of post-harvest losses was Rs926.51 billion in 2014, which was 0.6% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

While the surveys provided some insights, the report stated that they might be underestimating the losses since they only captured the first-mile storage losses and excluded the losses in long-haul transport to terminal markets.

The report recommended there should be consistent information on losses in the food supply chains. It also suggested the use of information technology and links between technology and clean energy solutions in managing food losses. 

To overcome the government shortcomings, the report proposed the government should start mapping schemes and taking cognisance of small-holder farmers, women, and other vulnerable communities.

‘Empirical research on food waste is very scarce’

Of all the publications reviewed, only 22 were specific to food waste in India, and only 10 generated primary data

Of the 106 publications reviewed in the study, a majority of them were on food loss (72), followed by food waste (22) and only 12 covered both food loss and waste. Moreover, only 10 publications on food waste had primary data.  

According to the study, food waste is significantly under-researched in India. While there is limited data availability of food waste at the retail, household, and service level, there is almost no data on food waste at household levels, it noted.

One of the studies mentioned in the paper, which looked at 531 wedding halls in Bengaluru, found that 943 metric tonnes of high-calorie food was wasted at weddings in the city every year, which is enough to feed around 26 million people an average Indian meal. 

The study identified certain gaps that need to be filled. These are – dearth of policy analysis and recommendations, costs and benefits of existing solutions for managing and reducing food waste and lack of data on the quantity of food wasted nationally.

Unexplored areas in the reviewed studies 

Since India is one of the leading food producers in the world, its land, water, and carbon footprint of food loss and waste is also expected to be very high, the paper noted. However, it revealed that research into the social, economic, and environment impact of food loss and waste is “negligible” in India.

It stated that food loss and waste leads to food and nutrition insecurity, which has more impact on women and individuals in marginalised societies.

However, gender-disaggregated research on food loss and waste is “neither available nor considered in improving technology or other solutions for its management”, it noted.

The way ahead

Reducing food loss and waste is a global issue. Even target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) calls for reducing food loss and waste by 2030.

However, despite having national-level surveys on post-harvest losses, India has not yet started reporting on SDG target 12.3.

The report recommended a roadmap based on data-driven strategies and solutions for managing food loss and waste in India and to put the issue on the research agenda at all levels in India. It also suggested a multi-stakeholder action coalition to prioritise actions for the implementation of a sustainable food system.

Since there is a lack of standard metrics for measuring food loss and waste, the report proposed adopting a standard metric that will help generate comparable data from different studies.

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