Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Need for Food

Food is essential to life. Why are we so inefficient at getting it from farm to table? Food too expensive to be purchased will rot in the warehouse. Food too unprofitable to harvest will be lost in the field. There is no shortage of food in the world. There is a shortage of people with money to buy it. Food is priced to maximise the return on effort of everyone in the production chain from the farmer to the grocer. Food isn't being wasted, it is being kept off the market. This is capitalism at work.

In India around 10.6 million tonnes of food production to be lost due to illegal pesticides according to a Federation of Indian Chamber ofCommerce and Industry (Ficci) study. This is almost 4% of the entire production. The study points out that counterfeit pesticides are growing and were 30% of the total market in volume terms and 25% in value terms in 2013. It further warns that the problem is growing at 20% annually and if not challenged, almost 40% of all pesticides sold in 2019 will be spurious.

Among primary reasons cited for the proliferation of illegal pesticides is price, which can be almost 30-40% lower than the average market price of an authentic product. Also, for manufacturers and sellers, profit margins on illegal products is around 25-30% as compared to 3-5% for branded products.

Irreversible damage to environment by use of unmonitored toxic elements can render large patches of land useless for cultivation, it said chances of ground and surface water contamination impacting millions of people is also high.

The impact of food waste on hunger, climate change, natural resources and food security is enormous. More than 1 billion metric tons of food is lost or wasted each year, never making it from the farm to fork. To put that into perspective, imagine 1.3 billion healthy Indian elephants standing on top of each other in one pile. That's the size of the mountain of food going to waste each year — and all of it perfectly good food. Meanwhile, more than 800 million people are chronically hungry — a population equivalent to the United States and European Union combined. Food waste also has a devastating impact on the environment, from the water wasted to grow the food we never eat to greenhouse gas emissions. If you look at food waste as an environmental problem you'll find that the energy we put into growing this food that nobody ever eats contributes 3.3 billion metric tons of annual carbon dioxide every year. That's including fuel for tractors used for planting and harvest, electricity for water pumps in the field, the power for processing and packaging facilities and more. Viewed another way, if food waste were a country by itself, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the United States. Estimates from the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization in 2014 found a total of 28% of agricultural lands around the world produce food that is lost or wasted. This loss is equivalent to 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon.

6 billion pound of "ugly" produce is estimated to be rejected annually because they are deemed non-marketable on the supermarket shelves.

India produces 28 percent of the world's bananas yet represents just 0.3 percent of all internationally traded bananas. With an improved “cold chain” (the network of refrigerated trucks and storage facilities), the number of bananas exported could grow from 4,000 to 190,000 containers, providing an additional 95,000 jobs and benefiting as many as 34,600 smallholder farms. That would make quite an impact on India's farmers and economy. The folks picking the food in the field see the smallest return yet they put in most physical effort.

It doesn't make sense to grow more — and throw more away — to try to feed more people.