Currently, 194 million inhabitants of India are undernourished, while 40% of all food produced in the country, with a value of approximately €6 billion, is lost or wasted – in theory enough to feed the population without even increasing production. ‘Tackling this issue not only contributes to nutrition security and mitigates FLW-related Greenhouse gas emissions, but also constitutes an investment opportunity for firms in the Indian food and logistics sectors’. For exactly this reason more than 20 first movers convened for the first time in a virtual roundtable to discuss how they could contribute to reduce food loss and waste in India.
Heike Axmann, Expertise Leader Supply Chain Development Group at Wageningen University & Research (WUR): ‘Process improvements and chain collaboration increase efficiency, reduce losses, and help unlock new opportunities including utilization of waste and side streams, and the ability to reach entirely new (export) markets.’ As agricultural attaché Ilse van Dijl added: ‘Now is the time to grasp these opportunities. The recent reforms in Indian agricultural marketing policies allow for more farm product storage, direct selling and contract farming. At the same time, there are many technologies available to reduce FLW.’ For this, however, the first steps need to be taken towards knowledge exchange and collaboration.
For exactly this purpose, on October 8th participants convened for the first time in a virtual roundtable setting. To set the scene, a keynote presentation was delivered by Toine Timmermans, director of Food Waste Free United – a Dutch non-profit. Over the past years, this organization has managed to bring together a vast coalition of producers, retailers, government bodies, and other parties involved in the food chain, committed to reduce food loss and waste by 50% between 2015 and 2030 and to raise consumer awareness for this issue. This was not without success, as consumption stage food waste fell from 41.2kg to 34.3kg per person between 2016 and 2019. Timmermans outlined the development and the working of this Dutch initiative, but also strongly urged the Indian frontrunners to learn from its mistakes.
Due to the large group of 24 representatives present and the wide variety of sectors and interests, participants discussed their current activities and future ambitions in 3 breakout sessions focusing on 1) establishing a national strategic framework for action, 2) tackling FLW in rice and grains chains, and 3) tackling FLW in perishables chains. The small setting catalyzed the proposition of several initiatives, with participants volunteering to commit among others nutrient inputs, crop breeds, packaging solutions, and networks to reach new markets to the first pilot projects in the INTAFLOW context.
Next steps ahead
Discussions at the roundtable highlighted what should be the first priorities of the newly formed taskforce: pilot projects to produce success stories with a limited group of first movers, building momentum for more stakeholders to join the initiative. Over time, and with the necessary preconditions (financing, standard-setting, legal frameworks, and supporting policy), this can result in a nationwide coalition and strategy to improve the Indian food system. Also several opportunities for further cooperation between Indian and European organizations were identified, such as innovative packaging solutions for rice and grains, high-quality inputs for increasing productivity of Indian farmers, and agro-logistics expertise from WUR to support the development of more efficient and sustainable food supply chains in India.