London: India stands out for its glaring lack of infrastructure and food storage facilities, in a new study that says 21 million tonnes of wheat -- equivalent to the entire production of Australia -- goes waste in the country.
The report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) on global food wastage found that as much as 50 percent of all food produced around the world never reaches a human mouth.
"Considerably greater levels of tonnage loss exist in larger developing nations, such as India for example, where about 21 million tonnes of wheat annually perishes due to inadequate storage and distribution, equivalent to the entire production of Australia," said the 'Global Food Waste Not Want Not' report, released Thursday.
"In neighbouring Pakistan, losses amount to about 16 percent of production, or 3.2 million tonnes annually, where inadequate storage infrastructure leads to widespread rodent infestation problems," it said.
Overall, wastage rates in vegetables and fruit are even higher than for grains.
At least 40 percent of all fruit and vegetable is lost in India between the grower and consumer due to lack of refrigerated transport, poor roads, inclement weather and corruption.
According to the latest survey, wastage tends to move up the distribution chain as the standard of development improves and regional and national transport, storage and distribution facilities fail to match the improvements made at the farm level.
This is a particular issue in India, which requires massive investments in the food logistics chain.
"Controlling and reducing the level of wastage is frequently beyond the capability of the individual farmer, distributor or consumer, since it depends on market philosophies, security of power supply, quality of roads and the presence or absence of transport hubs.
"These are all related more to societal, political and economic norms, as well as engineered infrastructure, rather than to agriculture," the authors of the report said, calling on governments in the developing world to introduce better technology and food storage facilities.
The Indian government has maintained that the recent reforms in the retail sector approved by Parliament, allowing 51 percent foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail and 100 percent FDI in the single-brand segment, will lead to increased investments in infrastructure and improve the logistics chain.
The IME report found that in developed countries like Britain as much as 30 percent of vegetable crops are not harvested due to their failure to meet retailers' exacting standards on physical appearance and up to half of the food that is bought in Europe and the US is thrown away by consumers.
Dr Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at the IME, said: "The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is staggering. This is food that could be used to feed the world's growing population as well as those in hunger today.
"It is also an unnecessary waste of the land, water and energy resources that were used in the production, processing and distribution of this food".
In the face of United Nations estimates of an extra 3 billion people to feed by the end of the century, the IME is calling for urgent action to tackle this waste.
First Published: Thursday, January 10, 2013, 18:07