Food wastage in India and what needs to be done

A Typical Day at any APMC Yard starts with huge truckloads of produce arriving, getting unloaded and then being auctioned by traders to other middlemen, who then repack the food into other trucks that gets dispatched the goods to far flung places to get sold.

The conditions at major wholesale markets, which has changed little in decades, reflects one of the biggest threats to food security in India, especially as the pace of urbanization requires more food to be brought to the cities. Also, Indian food prices have risen at double-digit levels, pinching the budgets of many working-class urban families in a country where food still accounts for an average of 31 per cent of monthly household expenditure.

With India’s farm-to-fork networks still being dominated by political influence, traditional traders and small shops, the country has struggled to modernize its food supply chain and attract large-scale investment into cold-storages, refrigerated trucks and other modern logistics.

As a result, even as hunger and malnutrition remains much of India’s agricultural output rots or seriously degrades before reaching the end users due to the factors stated above. Another major concern along with food wastage is the high hunger levels among the Indian population. On one end of the spectrum, the agricultural productivity is increasing every year and on the other end number of people going hungry to bed is also climbing.

On the Global Hunger Index, India is ranked 91st out of 116 countries, behind other developing countries such as Mongolia, Thailand and Columbia (lower rank indicates high hunger levels). India is categorized under ‘nations with serious hunger situation’. The problem of child under-nutrition is concentrated in a few countries and regions with more than 90 percent of stunted children living in Africa and Asia.

Alarmingly, 42% of the world’s undernourished children live in India alone. (Children aged less than 5 years) [GHI Report – 2010]. A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute states that, one-sixth of India’s population is undernourished, while 190 million people go to bed hungry daily. 

Wastage Stats:

According to an agriculture ministry study, India is growing more food but also wasting up to 67 million tonnes of it every year. That’s more than the national output of Britain, and enough food for Bihar, one of India’s larger states, for a whole year. The value of the food lost – Rs 92,000 crore — is nearly two-thirds of what it costs the government to feed 600 million poor Indians with subsidized ration under the National Food Security programme.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, up to 40% of the food produced in India is wasted. About 21 million tons of wheat is wasted in India and 50% of all food across the world meets the same fate and never reaches the needy.

Why is food wastage a problem?

  • 25% of fresh water used to produce food is ultimately wasted, even as millions of people still don’t have access to drinking water. When you calculate the figures in cubic kilometers, this is a bit more than an average river.
  • 300 million barrels of oil is used to produce food that is ultimately wasted.
  • Even though the world produces enough food to feed twice the world’s present population, food wastage is ironically behind the billions of people who are malnourished.
  • The number of hungry people in India has increased by 65 million which is more than the population of France.
  • According to a survey by Bhook (an organization working towards reducing hunger) in 2013, about 7 million children died in 2012 because of hunger and malnutrition.

These statistics are worrying because there is no dearth of food in India it seems, the problem lies in storage, transportation and making sure that it reaches to the consumers in time.

Cold Chain scenario in India

According to a study, India stores only two percent of its horticulture products in temperature-controlled conditions, while China stores 15 percent and Europe and North America stores 85 percent of their products in such conditions.

According to 2014 study by the Indian Institute of Management in Kolkata, The Total Horticulture and Non-Horticulture produce of India stood at more than 500 MMT. The total cold storage capacity in India is 32 MMT, which is not even 10 per cent of India’s perishable produce. Another interesting fact is that most of the cold storages are mainly used to store potatoes. Only 10–11 per cent of the fruits and vegetables produced use cold storage in India. There is a deficit of nearly 90 per cent. The study estimates that India needs storage facilities for another 370 MMT of perishable produce.

One of the main reasons for this enormous food wastage is : Lack of Cold Storage Facilities. One million tons of onions vanish on their way from farms to markets, as do 2.2 million tons of tomatoes. Overall, 5 million eggs crack or go bad due to lack of cold storage. Only 6% of the vegetable produced in India has got access to cold storage – even the 6% is mostly used for cold storage of potatoes concentrated in Punjab, Gujarat and western Uttar Pradesh.

So, why does India lack cold storage?

India lacks in cold storage because there are frequent power cuts in most part of the country due to INSUFFICIENT GRID POWER to run cold storage in the rural farm where most of the agriculture and milk production takes place.

A Cold Storage facility requires high initial investment and coupled with high cost of real estate in India it results in significantly increasing the Life-cycle cost of a cold storage setup.

Some of these players are unable to invest much in the technology required to build high-quality cold storage facilities or to acquire reefer trucks. A major chunk of these players are generally unaware of best practices for operating a cold chain efficiently.

Cold storage facilities are viewed as investments with a long payback period and low return.

Crisil Research has points out that “food inflation has averaged 8.1 per cent in the last decade, and over 10 per cent in recent times.” This is at a time when agricultural growth has been robust and our granaries continue to overflow. Agricultural growth over the last decade stood at 3.6 per cent per year, in comparison to 2.9 per cent per year in the past decade.

Food Inflation has hampered the Indian economy drastically, especially in the case of fruits and vegetables. During the fiscal year 2005-13 the production increased by 5.3% as compared to 1.3% during the previous fiscal (1998-2004) yet the inflation rose by 8.9%. Food Hoarding is another problem that the nation faces and the blame for which has to go to the anomalies in PDS (Public Distribution System). With the present food shortage, food security and safety are issues taking on growing prominence in India. Considering the current levels of food wastage, cold chain facilities will play an important role in feeding the country and reducing food wastage.


  • June 2014 CRISIL Insight. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2016, from
  • 2015 Global Hunger Index. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2016, from (Global Hunger Index Website)
  • 2015 Global Hunger Index. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2016, from (Global Hunger Index Website)

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