This article has been sponsored by DBS Bank India
For decades now, India has been grappling with the issue of hunger and inadequate nutrition. Hence, it was no surprise when the Global Hunger Index, 2019, ranked India at 102 out of a list of 117 countries fighting hunger.
Economists and policymakers consider hunger an outcome of overpopulation and poverty. And while these are contributing factors, another culprit lurks in the form of dilapidated infrastructure, inadequate storage and overflowing dumpsters – the creation and improper treatment of food waste.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, almost 40% of the total food grown in India annually goes to waste. In other words, we waste close to half of what we produce. Wastage does not begin with tossing leftovers or scraps into the dustbin after a hearty meal. It is a complex, multifaceted concern that involves looking beyond households and restaurants, and into wastage at the very source of the supply chain.
From crop failure, to post-harvesting processes, storage, distribution, etc., gaps need to be addressed to solve the problem of food wastage. The good news is that there are several purpose-driven companies working on future-forward solutions to this issue.
One such effort is led by DBS Bank India, which works with several companies and social enterprises to fight food wastage at the source. With the goal of doing more and better with less, here are a few organisations whose innovations are enabling a world with zero food-waste .
Through its ‘Greenhouse-in-a-Box’ (GIB) social innovation, a low-cost modular greenhouse, Kheyti helps farmers increase their yield and the predictability of the total production by a considerable margin.
GIB is designed to fit in small areas, which enables its use by even smallholder farmers. This greenhouse creates a favorable microclimate which reduces food spoilage due to extreme weather and other environmental risks. Further, it reduces pest attacks, which minimises crop damage and food wastage. All these features eventually help farmers grow seven times more food using 90% less water, as compared to cultivating in open fields.
As an example, Kheyti Tech shares how farmers have benefitted, especially in cucumber cultivation. Average yields increased to 3-8 tons in the greenhouse, as compared to an open field average of 430 kg on a 463 sq metre plot of land. This greenhouse helps farmers earn upto ₹1,00,000 additional profit/year using just 1/10th acre of land and 2 hours of time/day. Today, 300 farmers in Telangana use Kheyti’s greenhouse. They plan to reach 3,000 farmers by the end of 2022.
“DBS Foundation’s Social Enterprise Grant was instrumental in piloting our business model. DBS Bank India is actively engaged towards ensuring that its social enterprise partners succeed. They conduct capacity building sessions, webinars, and connect the ecosystem of social enterprises. This has helped Kheyti in actualising our mission of serving small farmers,” the Kheyti team shares.
An agri-social enterprise, Krishi Naturals, focuses on providing services to promote organic farming. The enterprise also takes an indirect route to influence the ‘zero food waste’ mission.
One of their recent triumphs has been around dairy farming with their brand Girej. Their techniques helped increase the milk yield of indigenous cows by 16-20%. With milk and ghee alone, they are impacting over 300 farmers, helping them increase their income by 18 to 20%.
They credit their impact potential to continuous support from the DBS Bank.
“DBS has always been a continuous source of support in terms of both capital as well as non-capital assistance. In 2018, Mr Shurojit Shome, CEO, DBS Bank India had mentored us, so that we learnt how to diagnose problems and adapt to sudden changes in the market, especially post Covid-19. Apart from that, we also got a seed fund and fellowship support from DBS Bank India under the DBS-TISS Social Entrepreneurship Program,” says Krishi Naturals.
Swani Spices Pvt Ltd.
With the group company established in 1864, Swani Spices’ mission is to create a customer-centric, environmentally friendly, and sustainable enterprise that delivers value throughout the supply chain.. Keeping with this vision, their backward integration program, with the involvement of farmers, and other such processes are all Rainforest Alliance certified for Sustainable Agriculture & independently Organic Certified. The company started an initiative with the ‘Land to Lab’ concept to bridge the gap between rural agriculture, technology, and agricultural science back in 2006.
A client of DBS Bank India, Swani Spices has taken various steps to contribute to the cycle of food production sustainably, ensuring minimal to no wastage along the way. These steps include initiating sustainable farming across Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal, Uttrakhand, Punjab, Rajasthan etc ; other than compositing and water conservation to improving livelihoods of more than 3000 farmers.
One of their initiatives to enhance yields was the soil testing and re-enrichment programme called “Samriddhi”, which translate to “Prosper” in Sanscrit. Using their soil analysis reports, Swani helped farmers rebalance nutrients in the soil with the help of customised ingredients. Such programmes also ensure nitrogen from the natural elements are absorbed in the soil and not released into the atmosphere, thus contributing positively to a sustainable environment.
A technology company, Ecozen focuses on enabling the Farm-To-Fork value chain for perishable food items with three core offerings – Ecotron, Ecofrost and Eco-Connect, which work across the production, management, and marketing of perishable Agri commodities respectively.
Started in 2010 by three IIT Kharagpur alumni, they work towards eliminating all the pain points across the Farm to Fork value change, at various stages.
“In the pre-harvest stage, only 48% of the net sown area is irrigated in India leading to reduced output. And in post-harvest, 40% of the food is wasted between the field and the end customer due to infrastructural gaps in the cold chain, leading to wastage of Rs 1.7 trillion worth of fruits and vegetables (annually). While the current solutions are mostly based on traditional energy sources, they are also operationally inefficient and negatively impact farmer income. So, we are solving these problems through renewable energy that is not only making the supply chain more efficient but also creating environmental and social impact,” explains the founders of Ecozen.
By creating 16,800 metric tonnes of solar cold storage capacity, so far, they have generated 404 million kWh of clean energy which is equivalent to lighting up 100 million houses for a day, while also abating 590,000 tons of CO2 emissions. In the process, they have reduced 12,740 metric tonnes of food wastage (the equivalent of serving 1,300 people for a lifetime) and have benefitted almost 35,000 farmers along the way.
DBS Bank’s support through grant will help the company in impacting more farmers and reduce food wastage while keeping the environment clean. The grant will be used by Ecozen to expand their Ecofrost solution geographically and eliminate value chain bottlenecks in highly perishable goods. “The grant is a validation of our efforts and product offering. Food Loss is a key issue in all developing countries and we at Ecozen are striving to build solutions to prevent this. The DBS funding will help us to reach out and collaborate with like-minded businesses and organizations working towards tackling food loss,” adds the team.
A food-tech company, S4S Technologies provides an array of services, like a quality check of the produce, secondary processing at its ISO grade factory and dehydration of perishable fruits and vegetables using solar dryers — all meant to eliminate food wastage in the supply chain. This saves around 20% of the food usually wasted in the post-production process.
The DBS Foundation gave S4S a grant in 2019 to expand its food-preservation offerings to several parts of the country, reducing wastage and enabling farmers to earn better livelihoods.
S4S’s technologies have been helping farmers reduce costs by processing the food right at the farm. Their solar-powered food-dehydrators have successfully increased the shelf-life of produce from a few days up to a year — without the use of any chemicals or preservatives.
With the help of these dryers, farmers no longer need to fear unsold produce. Instead, they can dehydrate the fruit or vegetable and wait till demand increases and ensures a fair price.
The silver lining to the food waste problem is that there are many similar enterprises working on the ground to tackle the range of issues, using technology to enhance food security. With the right support from stakeholders and purposeful organizations, they could help India fight a problem that has seemed insurmountable for so long and accelerate our movement towards zero food waste.