Food Waste at Farm Level -An inspiration and a nudge to act now

There is more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone on the planet. Yet as many as 828 million people still go hungry. In some areas of the world, we have too much food and in other areas of the world, not enough food. What a sad dynamic in an integrated global food economy! 

Food that is grown but not consumed uses resources all along the farm-to-fork chain – in its production, transportation, storage, and marketing. Growing food uses fertiliser, arable land, pesticides, energy, and water; and can degrade the environment through nutrient runoff or effects of pesticides on non-target organisms. Several reasons contribute to the food waste at the farm level. Variability in weather, weeds, bugs, disease, economy and market shifts are some major causes of farm level food waste . About 40 percent of perfectly safe, nutritious crops may be left in the field to rot.

  1. Growers are not able to find labour to harvest the crop in time.
  2. Market price of certain crops is too low to justify the cost of picking and transporting.
  3. Fruits and vegetables ripening at different times , so it’s difficult to find buyers towards the end of the growing season.

Food waste is maximum in the produce industry as it is more perishable than seeds and grains. For example, overripe fruit does not even make it to the wholesale market nor do imperfect produce. Such produce is either left to rot in the fields or ends up in landfills. This wastage has been a major concern and some entrepreneurs have come up with  solutions to reduce food loss at the farm level. 

Companies like Perfekto and Hungry Harvest are working towards reducing this food waste by rescuing the imperfect produce and making it available to consumers. They are creating a market for “seconds” which is generally rejected by the conventional wholesale market. 

Observing a trend going in the direction of consumers being more responsible, the co-founders of Perfekto Jan Heinvirta, Anahí Sosa, and Juan Andrade believe its subscription box of imperfect food can help. Launched in 2021, this Mexico-based company works with over 70 producers to “rescue” food and delivers it to consumers. The company has developed software to automate routing and logistics. Subscribers get an average of 2 boxes of produce per month. They have over 3000 active subscriptions and the numbers are increasing steadily. Perfekto has rescued 1 million pounds of produce and has recently received 1.1 million dollars in pre seed funding. They are currently focusing on Mexico city but are looking to expand to other cities as well. The company just launched a crowdfunding campaign, Heinvirta intends to plug the new capital into three areas: improve operations and technology, expand its catalogue of products to offer customers more variety and growth in the B2B space.

Some more companies like Martie, Hungry Harvest, Food Rescue are also on a similar mission. Kromkommer turns imperfect food into soup while Flawsome drinks makes juices from surplus or overripe fruit.

In India the food waste occurs mainly at the distribution level. This is being addressed by certain entrepreneurs who are entering the agritech space. Startups are seeking high-tech solutions to prevent the colossal food waste. Startups and venture capital firms like Omnivore Capital and Sequoia Capital are stepping  into what might seem an unlikely place: India’s vast, outdated agriculture industry. Farm apps are being created to improve the rickety supply chains that lose 25% of the produce.  Wastelink a Delhi based startup upcycles food waste into animal feed. Although awareness is increasing in India  regarding food waste. We are only focusing on supply chain management. We have yet to address the problem of food waste at the farm level. There is a vacuum in this area and it’s a problem to be tackled considering the number of people who go hungry in our country.

This is a shoutout to all the upcoming entrepreneurs to take inspiration  from companies like Perfekto and come up with solutions to prevent food waste at the farm level. Solutions which will be suitable to our country’s conditions and economics. Tackling the food lost in growing, harvesting, cleaning and packaging at the farm level needs to be addressed as well as the food lost in farming operations is significantly higher than the loss during storage and transportation. This has been verified by a survey  done by the Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering and Technology (CIPHET) . For example, loss of potato at the farm is 6.7% and during storage is 2.3%. Similar is the case with Peas, 8.6% at the farm and 1.7% in storage. 

I urge the young band of brave entrepreneurs to start thinking  in this direction. Find solutions to minimise food waste at the farm level and ensure that our nation does not face any food shortage in the years to come.

Indian Agri tech has shown tremendous pace in the last few years attracting some major venture capitalists. Indian economy has 40% contribution from agriculture and is expected to grow further in the coming years with the increase in commercial farming and latest equipment.

Some noted ventures in this segment are

  • IoT powered agriculture and drones: Fasa, Bitmantis, Agronxt, Soilsens
  • Marketplace and e-distributor: DeHaat, Ninjacart, Jumbotail, Bijak, Farmzen
  • Farm inputs: DeHaat, AgriBegri, AgroStar, BigHaat, Gramophone
  • Precision agriculture and farm management: Cropin, FarmERP, AgNext, BharatAgri
  • Farmer advisory: AgroStar, IFFCO Kisan, RML, Farmbee, Fasal Salah
  • Finance and insurance: Aggois, Niruthi, Weather Risk, Jai Kisan
  • Equipment leasing: EM3, Agri Bolo, Tractor Bazaar
  • Meat delivery: Licious, Zappfresh, Pesca Fresh, Fresh to Home
  • Crop quality assessment: Nebulaa, AgricX, Intello Labs
  • Smart farm equipment: Drip Tech, Netafim, Cultyvate, Soilsens
  • Hybrid seeds: Mahyco, Nu-genes, Nuziveedu seeds
  • Hydroponics: Fresco, Triton Foodworks, Junga Fresh and Green, Absolute Foods

Editor’s Note: Please send in your ideas and comments about the article. If  you know of any company that is working towards this in India do let us know.

Food Waste at Farm Level -An inspiration and a nudge to act now
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