Waste Less To Feed More

February 15, 2013
Wheat Harvest on the Outskirts of Amritsar, India

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.



Ashim C.
February 17, 2013

Ashim C. in India writes:

As far as multi brand retail is concerned, it is only a matter of time before it becomes a reality. Delay is due to a perception created by middle men and traders in the mind of small neighbourhood retailers that MBR shall force them out of business. Perception management in this matter is done by some of the leading political parties. It is indeed the failure of US & Indian INC to sell MBR in India. Instead of unnecessarily going through federal government, they should have moved through state and local governments in introducing MBR. They could have selected any state ideally like Gujrat, where local government is strong and decision making is fast to avoid making MBR an ideological issue. They could have started with development of backend infrastructure and could have included in it creation of food processing infrastructure, Indian handloom and garment fabrication in small towns and cities and market them through existing Indian MBR businesses. In this process, idea MBR could have been sold more easily paving way for FDI in in retail.

One would like to emphasise that development of food processing industry ideally through cooperative of farmers in any country like India, which are very large producers of fruit, flower, vegetables, milk share the added value of the processed products to empower millions of India farmers with it's benign economic effects on economy. Similarly, India handloom & garment industry ought to get focussed attention from Indian & US Inc. MNCs & Indian corporates have to realise business potential of this segment, which is waiting for support in improvement of processes and marketing to realise it's full . A focussed attention on India handloom, Silk and woolen fabric shall benefit and empower again millions of weavers, ho have skills that are not easily substitutable. One wonders, why handloom woolen fabric, silk of Indian states along the entire length of Himalayas and plains cannot be put to extended use as marketable and high end western fashion wears all over the world where MNC multi brand retailers have presence and market penetration.

With about 250 to 300 million Indian middle class, if India have been achieving 5% to 8% growth rate, how much more can be the growth and how that will benefit not only India and rest of the world.
It is reasonable to assume if this business development process is followed in one state of India, other states including left dominated states like Tripura, West bengal & kerala too would willingly embrace FDI in MBR.

Abu t.
February 17, 2013

Abu T. in Bangladesh writes:

For food security we need to increase our cultivation & this issue not only for us but also for all the countries who want food security.And for positive result all sector s/b united by helping each other by their chain from Govt to farmer where all the farmer works pleasantly.

California, USA
February 19, 2013

Bill in California writes:

Mr. Hormats neglects to mention that, like so many other officials in the Obama administration, he was formerly with Goldman Sachs, where he served as Vice Chairman. In that capacity, he aggressively pushed the GATT policy which makes developing nations vulnerable to being looted by investment banks such as Goldman Sachs, as well as by the food cartels that he praises in his blog post.


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