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Food waste: The real reason why millions are malnourished

In the absence of proper storage facilities and distribution network, carrots lie rotting in the open

Over 800 million people in the world go to bed hungry every night and are chronically undernourished.

And the sad truth is, this has not so much to do with food shortage as with food wastage.

Globally, around 30 to 40 percent of the all the food produced gets wasted. This is equivalent to food worth $1 trillion.

If we can reverse that trend, says the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), we could feed a whopping 2 billion with it! That’s more than twice the number of hungry people on this planet!

But how do we end up losing so much of our precious produce?

One of the main reasons behind it is insufficient or inadequate storage facilities. Vast quantities of fruits, vegetables and food grains produced are lost in the pre- and post-harvest phase mainly because there’s not enough storage space for them.

Crops that eventually find a place in warehouses are not safe either. Most of the time, it’s because of the lack of proper refrigeration or freezing facilities to keep them fresh longer. As a result, stored produce often lies rotting. Pest infestation is another reason why most of the food doesn’t reach the hungry. Not only does it ruin harvested crops in storage, but sometimes even before they leave the farm.

Inefficient distribution network is also a culprit. Lack of proper transport facilities to deliver food to the consumers effectively, means vegetables, fruits and meat get thrown away and often form a part of landfills.

It is said that post-harvest losses in sub-Saharan nations run into billions of dollars every year. In India 30 to 40 percent of agricultural produce is wasted simply because most wholesalers and retailers don’t have cold storage. Even a developed nation like the US sees 30 to 40 percent of its food supply wasted.

Just in case all this information made you think that you and I can’t do much about it, here’s your reality check: consumers in developed nations waste food equivalent to the entire food production of sub-Sahara each year! With lower food prices in these nations, the incentive to waste is higher.

Developing nations, seeing rising incomes and commercialisation, are no less responsible for the criminal wastage; precious food gets squandered both in kitchens at home and in restaurants.

If all that discarded or damaged food in the world could be saved and distributed effectively, not only would there be zero hunger but also much less pollution – together all the wasted food is responsible for 8 percent of the total greenhouse gas emitted. This is slightly less than what the US and China emit separately.

Large scale agriculture using chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides to feed the world’s 7.6 billion has meant an alarming extent of deforestation, soil erosion, soil degradation and rising greenhouse gases.

This has contributed to the climate change, which in turn will further add fuel to the fire. Already erratic and extreme weather patterns is causing untold damage to farming. Going forward, it would reshape the world’s agricultural landscape completely – while colder climes will become more favourable to agriculture, many current agriculture powerhouses will see drastic declines in yield.

Add to that more mouths to feed as the world population goes on increasing, and we are literally staring at a ticking timebomb.

It is estimated that close to 2 billion would go hungry by 2050 if we don’t act immediately.

Act we can and without wrecking the planet.

Governments and international organisations such as the UN are already on a mission to eliminate hunger by 2030 by bringing in technology for effective farming practises and also by improving the distribution network so that food reaches the plate of the needy. The UN, for example, is working on cutting global food waste by half by 2030.

But all these efforts may miss the mark by a mile if we don’t find a way to control our population growth, particularly in developing nations. Our resources will continue getting strained as we keep adding to the existing billions and we might never really tackle challenge of hunger and undernourishment even in the distant future.