Mapping Horticulture & Agri-Food Loss : How Technology can Drive Sustainability and Global Impact

July 14, 2022


Every bite of food tossed into the bin is an action spent on expanding some increasingly complex, yet known problems. Minimizing food waste should be globally prioritised since it keeps food out of landfills, and lowers food expenses at a macro level—by cutting disposal costs across restaurants, farms, and other organisations dealing with food materials.

But first, we need to properly understand the two forms of unwanted food disposal. “Food Loss” refers to underutilised agricultural, forestry, and fishing products, that occurs during the food manufacturing and distribution stages, while “Food Waste” refers to edible food that is thrown away, squandered, or expired, and mostly occurs at the retail stage.

According to the Boston Consulting Group, about 2.5 billion tonnes of food are wasted or lost globally each year, with one-third of it occurring during the production stage. Curbing, if not at least largely reducing various catalysts of food wastage and loss is crucial, as other than contributing to shooting up figures in food indices, various additional unnecessary expenditures on services such as imports, packaging and processing, and distribution among other things are meaninglessly spent upon.  

Over 40% of the food produced in India is lost each year due to fragmented food systems and inadequate supply chain management, as per the FAO. With 74 million Indians likely to be at risk of suffering from increased hunger levels, it is important to proactively respond to the issue.

A landfill of rubbish but a mountain of chaos

Food wastage is known to cause economic losses and negatively impact the environment. According to some recent observations made by the FAO, one-third of all food produced globally for human consumption is wasted, thereby costing the world’s economy US$1 trillion annually. Food wastage can both, directly and indirectly, impact the environment, by leading to the emission of greenhouse gasses, increased water scarcity, risks to biodiversity, and soil erosion on a global scale. 

In India, due to a fragmented and inefficacious supply chain system, almost 40% of food is wasted annually. The household food waste estimate in the country is 50 kg per capita each year, and when described on a cumulative basis, 68,760,163 tonnes a year.

By 2030, it is estimated that the annual wastage and loss of food will hit US$ 1.5 trillion. Not dealing with the same, will yield in various disasters, such as shortage of fresh water, and hunger among other things. With about 820 million people malnourished across the world, the global food system’s inefficiency will cause significant economic and sustainability impacts.

Businesses, particularly those in the food value chain, can handle significant clout in the market. They should be agents of leading the change, by addressing the concern of global food loss and waste at multiple levels.

Incorporating technology

The first important step to reducing food loss and waste is measuring them. By using technologies to sort and grade agricultural produce, the harvested crops can be effectively classified into different categories. Most marketplaces in India do not have systems in place that can sort commodities objectively on various parameters such as colour, size, and visual defects.

Human mistake is responsible for 10.9% of all food waste in production operations, according to research, and production defects account for 8.7% of the total. A paramount measure to save consumable food from being wasted and/or lost is keeping information about the state of the inventory transparent and traceable.

By standardizing the use of blockchain technology to digitise supply chains, food businesses can share data in real time, from farm to shelf, offering deeper visibility. This will help companies measure first to manage the losses and wastage later, thereby saving billions of dollars annually. According to the Champions 12.3 study, for every US $1 spent on curbing food loss, you save US $14. 

“Blockchain helps in breaking the silos of the supply chain, by enhancing the food items’ traceability, safety, and shelf-life.”

We see tremendous efforts by the Agritech community in India which offer services that cover every aspect of agriculture, from planting to harvesting. Farmers will be able to estimate crop growth and production, analyse field stress, monitor soil health, develop broader market linkages, and test grain quality by combining AI, image processing, RPA, and data analytics. When disputes about the food products’ quality arise at the buyer’s entry points, perishable food items are frequently blocked from accessing the market. This will cause them to deteriorate, which will ultimately result in their waste.

Imparting modern logistical services with quality-mapped traceability, where real-time tracking of the produce during their movement, will help in avoiding disputes over the produce’s quality after reaching buyers across the chain. 

Also, equipping warehouse technologies, and digitally controlling storage parameters for efficient management of inventory will help result in a much more profitable farm-to-fork supply chain. Modernized controlled atmospheric storage (CA) and dry storage warehouse facilities on basis of commodity requirements, will greatly assist in maintaining quality, and reducing perishability factors.

The same may be said regarding food waste at the business level. A digital tool, such as an image-based quality determiner can analyse food, assess how fresh it is, and then provide alternatives on what to do with it rather than throwing it away. A study found that one-third of the rejected items were worth restocking and selling the next day after examining food products using such technology, notably fruits, vegetables, and other perishables that were heaped to be discarded at the end of a work day. 


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