Friday, 5 August 2016

Wastage, Inflation and Carbon footprint

Agriculture sector is the largest employer in India with over 58% of rural population’s livelihood dependent on it, and contributing to 17% of India’s GDP.  In 2013-14 the agricultural food production was found to be 263 million tonnes, which is 8.7% higher than our demand of 230 million tonnes per year. Yet there are many questions cropping up, like,

      1.        Why are about 50% of Indian children reported under nourished?

     2.       Why does India rank 63 out of the 78 countries listed in the Global Hunger Index of 2013? (It ranks worse than neighbouring Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan)

     3.       The supply of food is much higher than what is needed. By the law of supply and demand, the prices should have gone down. Why is there inflation in food?
      4.       What implication do these have on the environment?

The root cause is wastage. Yes, in a developing country with 50% children who are smaller for their age, we waste food and lots of it. The fact is that production wise, we have it pretty much covered. The losses in transportation and storage are the real devils. Lack of cold storage facility near the production areas, improper packaging, and lack of cheap, efficient and appropriate transportation means are major feeders to this evil. It was estimated that in 2013-14 India wasted 21 million tonnes of wheat alone, which is as much as the entire food production in Australia!

The production of food more than what is needed is meaningless since we waste so much that the actual available food is much lesser than what is needed. This is the reason why food inflation is rampant.

Even when assuming the demand for food is the same (which in all practical aspects is ever increasing) the price increases as there is simply not much food available in spite of producing huge quantities. Thanks to wastage. In the actual scenario, the price will only go further up as the demand for food keeps on increasing while we keep on wasting the food we produce.

As a result of this, everything becomes costlier. The poor farmer who worked hard to produce the food that gets wasted is not excluded from the list. The resources used to produce food gets costlier, as a result, the farmer is unable to churn out a healthy livelihood.

It takes somewhere between 500 liters to 4000 liters to produce a kg of wheat. Even going by the lower limit, by wasting 21 million tonnes of wheat, the country has wasted 10.5 trillion liters of water which is equivalent to the consumption of water by the entire population of Uttar Pradesh for a whole year! That is a lot of water. Using this much water in agriculture would have needed electricity for pumping it. All that electricity has gone waste leading to a whole lot of GHG emissions put out into the atmosphere for nothing. This extends to tonnes of coal wastefully burnt in our thermal power plants to produce the electricity used to pump the water.

By wasting food, we put a stress on the natural resources which are harnessed and mined to provide the raw materials for its production. This results in an increased Carbon and water footprint. Wasting animal products and meat leads to a much higher Carbon footprint than vegetables and fruits as meat and dairy require more resources.

Due to wastages, the actual food availability goes down thereby increasing the prices. We have to stop wasting food.

In order to do this, the supply chain needs to be improved at a national level. In India, we can see farmers transporting their produce on rickety, inefficient, non-refrigerated trucks, driving through the bad roads bearing the dust and heat. The cold chains used for storing the produce are far from the site of production. India needs more cold chains and they have to be at the site of production. Our country needs improved, refrigerated vehicles for transporting food. It needs better roads and better goods trains to play a part in reducing food wastage.  New technology that use thermal energy storage to reduce electricity expenses must also be explored.

At a personal level, each individual can take efforts to minimize food wastage. Simple practices include-
    1.       Buying smaller, usable quantities. Try not to throw away any raw food from the house. Pay attention to your family’s eating habits and buy accordingly.

      2.       Discourage family members from throwing away good food, both cooked and raw.

     3.       If a lot of edible food is left, give it off to those who need it. There are plenty of NGOs that can help you. You yourself can just walk out of the house and find someone who will be happy to eat that.

      4.       Reduce the intake of processed food. The more processed it is, the more resources it has used up in its journey to reach you. By extension, you will be wasting more resources if you waste processed food.

     5.       Never waste food in restaurants. Always get them packed and use it at home or give it away to someone in need.

Remember, when you waste food, you also waste water, energy, money and a poor family’s hard work. In addition to that you also contribute in increasing your Carbon footprint and rising inflation.

Stop food wastage. Stop it now!

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