A Colossal Waste

India has reported a big leap in fruit and vegetable production in recent years. A corresponding rise in wastage is attributed mainly to a huge deficit in post-harvest storage infrastructure, refrigerated transport and handling facilities

Mukulika R

A Colossal Waste

india is the world’s second largest producer of fruits and vegetables after China. It contributes 11 percent of the world’s total production. India produced 236 million tons – 76 million tons of fruits and 156 million tons of vegetables – in 2011-12, according to the National Horticulture Board. While bananas, papaya and mangoes top India’s fruit list, the potato, ginger, onion, cauliflower, eggplant and cabbage are the country’s top vegetables, according to India’s Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Agency (APEDA).

However, in spite of such a high rate of production, India has the world’s poorest record by several measures, from export, with just one percent of world trade, to storage facilities, to per capita consumption. India is the biggest waster of fruits and vegetables.

The production and area under cultivation of India’s fruit and vegetables has registered a big leap in recent years. The area devoted to growing fruit rose from 2.8 million hectares in 1991-92 to 6.7 million hectares in 2011-12. Production, too, nearly trebled during this period from 28 million tons to 76 million tons. The same range of growth could be seen in the case of vegetables. The area growing vegetables surged from 5.5 million hectares to nine million hectares in the three decades ending 2011-12, while production increased from 58.53 million to 156 million tons.

According to the Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM), the country’s production of fruits and vegetables is likely to rise even more, from the current 227 million tons to 377 million tons by 2021. With a growing economy, most of the increase in production is likely to be domestically consumed rather than exported.

During 2012-13, India exported fruit and vegetables worth Rs.59,867.2 million (US$981 million)*. This was made up of fruits worth Rs. 25,037.5 million (US$410 million) and vegetables worth Rs. 34,829.7 million (US$571 million). Mangoes, walnuts, grapes, bananas and pomegranates rank high among fruits exported from the country, while onions, okra, bitter gourd, green chillies, mushrooms and potatoes are the country’s largest traded vegetables. India’s top markets are the United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh, Malaysia, the U.K, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

But with more production has come more waste. According to official Indian statistics, the country wastes 18 percent of its fruit and vegetable production worth Rs 133 billion (US$2.18 billion) each year. Fruit production losses have been estimated at between 20 and 25 percent of output. The wastage comes even though per capita consumption is an absymal 100 grams per day, barely half of what is needed for a balanced diet, in this hugely populated country.

The culprit behind India’s gigantic waste of fruits and vegetables is a severe lack of post-harvest storage infrastructure, refrigerated transport and handling facilities as well as the lack of cold chains – or an uninterrupted series of storage and production for food. According to the ASSOCHAM study, among Indian states, West Bengal loses over Rs 136,570 million (US$ 2,239 million) a year after harvest, the most of any, followed by Gujarat (US$1,869 million), Bihar (US$1,754 million) and Uttar Pradesh (US$1,689 million).

Another drawback of India’s fruit and vegetable industry is how little reaches the consumer. Only about 22 percent of the fruit and vegetables produced in India reach wholesale markets, says Assocham.

According to “Vision 2015”, a study released by the government-backed Central Institute of Post Harvest Engineering and Technology (CIPHET), value addition in fruits and vegetables in India is a paltry two percent compared to 80 percent in the Philippines and Malaysia. More than 70 percent of the country’s production and trade remain in the country’s disorganized rural areas. Less than two percent of the total vegetables produced in the country is commercially processed, compared with 70 percent in Brazil and 65 percent in the United States.

Dr M S Swaminathan, the architect of India’s Green Revolution and the country’s most respected agriculture scientist said of this wastage to Fruit & Veg World: “The National Horticulture Board was set up in 1982 as per the recommendation we made to develop infrastructure needs for the post-harvest management and marketing of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, it has not been functioning on the lines we envisaged. Thus, there is a big gap between production and post-harvest technologies in horticulture”.

Dr Swaminathan says poor infrastructure for managing quality, grading and labelling are among reasons why India’s exports are low. The industry is disorganized and needs visionary leaders like Dr V Kurian of Amul and Dr B V Rao of Venkateswara Hatcheries. “They succeeded in organizing India’s milk and egg industry from a dismally disorganized state” said Dr Swaminathan, a Magsaysay award winner. A recent report by Emerson Climate Technologies (India), a subsidiary of the US-based manufacturing and technology company, points out that the lack of refrigerated transport and high quality cold storage facilities for manufacturers and sellers are India’s biggest contributors to food wastage.

India has currently 6,300 cold storage facilities unevenly spread across the country with an installed capacity of 30.11 million metric tons. This is only half of what the country needs. But in order to reach an optimum installed capacity of 61 million tons, India needs an investment of more than Rs 550,000 million (US$ 9,016 million) by 2015-16 just to keep up with production levels, according to the Emerson Report. In response to the country’s needs, Emerson Technologies has established its first cold chain and distribution centre in the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the state capital.

According to CIPHET’s Vision 2025: “India is host to many unique fruits and vegetables having unique aroma, taste and flavour and nutritional properties and health benefits. These fruits and vegetables as well as medicinal and aromatic plants which are unique to India will be required by rest of the world. Hence to get the highest return from this precious agrowealth, modern food processing techniques and the developing of novel value- added products will be essential to keep up the competitive edge over other countries in our region.”


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