NEW DELHI – Every morning at the largest fruit and vegetable market in the Indian capital, local traders wait for the arrival of trucks full of goods.
However, a sizeable portion of the produce is wasted on the way due to a lack of adequate infrastructural facilities.
“About 40 percent of the food is getting wasted,” Chandramouli Guin, the head of the India branch of the market research agency MRSS, told EFE.
Guin attributed this waste to a shortage of refrigeration chambers with which to keep the food fresh.
Vendors are forced to get rid of the fruits and vegetables unfit for consumption, thus accumulating piles of wasted food alongside the market stalls.
“Sometimes we have to bear the loss of 150-200 boxes of fruits and vegetables in a week,” a vendor at the market told EFE.
Cows and stray dogs feed on the waste products that fill the streets of this New Delhi market with a pungent stench.
Meanwhile, 378 million Indians live under acute deprivation and some 8.8 percent of the population – out of a total of 1.25 billion people – live in extreme poverty, according to a July report of the United Nations Development Program.
The vehicles carrying fruits and vegetables lack any kind of temperature control, which breaks the cold supply chain required by fresh produce.
“A lot of food gets wasted due to improper handling and storing of the food,” one of the truck drivers told EFE.
The traders face monthly losses of around 100,000-150,000 rupees ($1,390-2,080), a vendor – who asked to remain anonymous – said while sorting the good apples into a box and leaving the spoiled ones.
According to Guin, “every time there is a load transfer from one truck to another, food starts to decompose.”
This is because the cold chain is mainly used for storage rather than end-to-end operations, he explained.
“The distributors don’t suffer losses since they work on commission,” Guin said. “The vendors are the ones who have to take on the loss.”
A report on cold chain infrastructure published in 2018 by the Associated Chambers of Commerce of India and MRSS revealed that there are were fewer than 10,000 vehicles with cold storage facilities in all of India.
With a capacity to transport a total of 31 million tons, the trucks allocate only 25 percent of the space to fruits, vegetables and pharmaceutical products, and the remaining 75 percent to potatoes.
The report indicated that the state of the roads, the lack of technical know-how in distribution and storage, and the heavy expenditure that they must undertake, were all factors preventing carriers from updating their sector’s infrastructure.
In addition – and despite the fact that the products are damaged during their post-harvest handling – farmers are affected the most, as half of what they produce is wasted and the distribution companies do not reimburse the costs of produce wasted due to their inadequate storage facilities, Guin said.
Consequently, the wastage faced by the farmers damages the rural economy and increases the gap between consumer prices and the final price paid to the producers.
The vegetable production which made up 20.4 percent of India’s GDP during 2016-17, recorded between 4.6-16 percent of wastage of fruits and vegetables annually due to lack of modern harvesting practices and inadequate infrastructure for maintaining the cold chain, the research said.
To tackle this problem, the government drew up a four-year-plan in 2018 budgeted at $225.43 million to modernize rural industries and infrastructure.
As long as this isn’t resolved, “90 percent of the industry will suffer,” Guin concluded.