Today’s digital-first world allows us to access numerous apps on our smartphones that allow us to browse a large number of restaurants and place orders from our own homes. These restaurants get fresh produce mostly through intermediaries like the local mandi or, in certain cases, agritech startups that focus on market linkage for farm produce. This is only one aspect of the story.
Although most of the food makes it to our plates and palates, some of it goes unnoticed at each step. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that nearly one third of all food is wasted or lost before it can actually be eaten. For context, the total amount of food lost without being eaten is twice the amount needed to feed the hungry people around the world. In India, food wastage occurs along the supply chain. It starts at the source and ends at the consumer.
What is the origin of food waste in India?
Today’s problem is that supply chains are supply-led. Farmers don’t have enough data or information about demand. Farmers rely on intuition, gut feeling and past trends to produce. The small size of Indian farms makes it hard to achieve scale change. This can lead to oversupply or shortages. Supply chain management must be demand-driven. This gives farmers control over what, when, how much they can grow and how to preserve shrooms. Food wastage can be largely attributed the repeated handling and transportation of delicate and perishable foods. This means that the food is lost even before it reaches its destination.
The best approach is a combined approach with seamless tech interventions. We have had encouraging results from our efforts to manage the entire food-to-sale value chain. This has allowed us to address these issues at the grassroot level, and transform the Indian food industry.
Here are some examples of how next-generation tech is changing the food supply chain at different stages.
Farmers receive information about their daily demand through precise gathering and sharing of inputs using AI and machine learning algorithms. Farmers can place bids and get purchase orders from customers and retailers via an app. This gives them greater control over harvesting and reduces harvest waste. These systems provide inputs for farmers regarding soil health and agroclimatic conditions, and also recommend safe practices concerning pesticides or fertilizers to preserve the product.
Farmers check to see if the produce needs more processing before it is sent to distribution centers. If they are sure, they will produce in processing units such as mills or pulping units. After this, the produce is sent to automated distribution centers for sorting. This is done using system-generated picklists that are used to assign exact quantities to customers.
Farmers can sell their produce quickly by gaining awareness and training in crop management, storage, processing and market access.
At retail market
Next, you need to make sure that products are fresh until they reach their consumers. This is done using GPS-enabled trucks. Effective systems ensure that freshness is maintained during transport by performing strict food hygiene audits at all source points. This includes taking into account various input metrics such as residue levels, nitrate and acidity. Intelligent location planning allows for small transit storage areas for perishable items and high humidity storage units to store greens.
Multiple ecosystem players, from farmers to retailers to consumers, are benefiting from this integrated system. The entire food production and consumption process is made seamless and accessible to all parties. This will help improve India’s agriculture ecosystem. We have seen that minimal handling of food can reduce wastage by up to 70%, according to our experiences. The automated systems used in distribution centers ensure that at most 40% of food is sent out without any human intervention. Proper sorting and grading are essential to ensure that food items are distributed to the right industry sectors, allowing for efficient utilization.
Temperature and moisture are the two most important factors in food freshness. Many avenues exist to preserve food’s freshness during transit. For highly perishable items, temperature-controlled trucks can be used. They also eliminate 6-8% of the possibility of food getting lost in transit.
Making the food economy more efficient, sustainable
These innovations show the sector’s high potential for growth. The existing agricultural ecosystem will be transformed by more technological advances. There is a tremendous opportunity for Agritech platforms and players to collaborate and contribute. Ernst & Young’s study shows that Indian Agritech will be a US$24 Billion market by 2025. Only 1% of this potential has been tapped. Imagine the potential this sector holds and the dramatic developments that we will see in the near future.
Food wastage can be reduced by combining technology, automation, and innovation across the value-chain. Food is third in importance to a living thing, after water and air. We must take collective action to reduce food waste so that future generations can enjoy the delicious cuisines of today.