I recently spoke at the 13th annual Delhi Sustainable Development Summit in New Delhi, India. My remarks focused largely on the importance of creating a good environment for investment in the agricultural sector. I emphasized the particular need to improve food supply chains that connect farmers to markets. Significant additional improvements in food supply chain infrastructure are needed to reduce post-harvest food losses, which are disturbingly high in many parts of the world.
Some important progress already has been made. The Government of India recently took steps to open India's multi-brand retail sector to encourage foreign direct investment. This investment is critical for India's overall economic growth prospects as well as the development of India's food storage and distribution industry. As Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh explained, an organized and efficient retail sector "will help to ensure that a third of our fruits and vegetables, which at present are wasted because of storage and transit losses, actually reach the consumer."
Prime Minister Singh makes a compelling point -- one that is not only vital to India but also should be recognized in countries around the world.
Among the most important and efficient ways to improve food security, nutrition, and incomes for millions of small farmers is to make certain that every bushel of wheat, liter of milk, or kilogram of rice that is produced is stored properly and delivered efficiently from farm to table. The current large and tragic losses of food adversely affect farmers and consumers, especially those in the lowest income groups. In addition, post-harvest food losses are a waste of valuable farming inputs, such as water, energy, land, labor, and capital.
This is a problem not only for India but also for the world at large. Enormous quantities of food in many countries are needlessly lost or rendered less nutritious or less palatable due to inefficient processing, spoilage, exposure to heat, devastation by insects and rodents, and other avoidable factors. Experts estimate that about one-third of global agricultural production never makes it to the consumer or arrives in poor condition. Because the magnitude of post-harvest losses is so massive, finding and supporting efforts that sharply reduce and ultimately eliminate such losses has been a high priority for me since I took this job over three years ago.
A number of businesses have technologies and capacities to help developing countries reduce food loss. Cargill, Ingersoll-Rand, and Walmart have already successfully deployed food storage and preservation technologies in several regions of the world. Several entrepreneurs have also stepped up to develop new technologies and approaches to reduce food loss. U.S.-based Promethean Power Systems -- a start-up co-founded by an MIT graduate and a Boston entrepreneur -- has partnered with an Indian company called Icelings to develop a solar-powered refrigeration system for transporting fruits and vegetables from rural farms to city markets. In June 2012, Secretary Clinton awarded the Promethean-Icelings partnership the first ever grant of the U.S.-India Science and Technology Endowment Fund.
Even with the right technology solutions, many countries lack meaningful incentives, affordable financing options, and necessary government policies to encourage farmers to adopt efficient practices or to enable retailers to invest in equipment, facilities, and stores needed to reduce food loss and broaden market opportunities. Hence, it is critical that governments -- as India is doing -- adopt policies that encourage greater investment in post-harvest storage and distribution network infrastructures.
It is high time to make solving the problem of post-harvest food losses an urgent global priority -- and to make such losses a thing of the past. Success will improve the food security of hundreds of millions of people around the world, boost the incomes of millions of small holder farmers in villages and towns throughout the world's developing and emerging countries, and represent a giant step forward to better conserve our planet's natural resources.