CrossTree Blog

Food Loss, Policy, Strategy, Sustaining agriculture, Climate and anything else...

The Biggest Economy

imageAn IMF report last week projects China to be the world’s largest economy, totting $17.6 trillion with the US of A coming second with $17.4 trillion. This should not be a surprise to many as at the start of the year, the World Bank also foretold this occurrence. 

The fact that the comparison is based on PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) is also well known, as well the fact that in non-adjusted GDP terms China is around $6 trillion behind USA. 

What is surprising is that there ongoes a debate about who holds the crown of the largest economy.

Insights into Food Loss and Waste

A High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) was established by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) in 2010 as the science-policy interface of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS). On 3 July 2014, the HLPE published report #8 titled “Food losses and waste in the context of sustainable food systems”. 

At its onset, the report states that accurate estimates of losses in the food system are unavailable, though it reiterates that best evidence at hand indicates that global food waste stands at 1/3rd of production. It goes on to state that myriad approaches to defining food losses and waste tend to be confounding.

For the referenced report, the following definitions are used. Food Loss and Waste (FLW) is “a decrease, at all stages of the food chain from harvest to consumption, in mass, of food that was originally intended for human consumption, regardless of the cause”. Some key phrases here is “in mass” and “for human consumption”.

Food Loss & Waste (FLW) has two distinct components – food loss occurring before consumption and food waste occurring at consumption level.

Apathy Quit India

Our Prime Minister Modi  spoke loud and clear at Madison Square today – he sought a mass movement called development, big efforts for small works, cleanliness is godliness, not to be shy of tough tasks, take challenges head-on, tardiness to go take a back seat!

Though I know he spoke his heart out and have no doubts that he won over many too, I fear how many will toe this line. Sometimes, a passionate individual, will tend to believe that passion is the norm with all. Then comes along a few shocks as one potters away… many an earlier smiling and cheering fellow will waylay or bide a moment to regress into old habits. I hope that will not be the case, and the excitement lasts long enough to become a new obsession.

This mass movement named Development is in truth a cry to shun Apathy, to stop looking for easy excuses that censure you from your path! And to believe that wherever your persist for excellence, whatever the result, your continued efforts make a difference.

Fire and Ice

In school, we learnt that the greatest boost to human evolution occurred when our ancestors learnt to manage fire. Domesticating fire for the purpose of cooking is considered the supreme causal factor for hastening the evolutionary development of homo-sapiens. Today, no human group eats all of its food raw.

If we were to feed on only raw uncooked food, we would need to chew for more than 9 of our waking hours each day.

Without fire, even if we had the chewing prowess of chimps, which delivers them a rate of 400 food calories an hour, after done gathering the food we would be chewing it for the rest of our waking hours. Either that, or an active brain of this size would not be sustained.

Cold-chain in relation to Food losses

Cold-chain does not directly reduce food loss - it is incongruous to proceed with that as the key premise. Cold-chain can only help take food to intended uses, preferably directly from farm-to-fork.

Food has one use, to be consumed, and food is lost when not consumed. Food loss can be reduced by facilitating that the produce reaches all logical and feasible end uses.

The idea of cold-chain is not to preserve endlessly, it only applies technology to extend the marketable life of a perishable product, for a finite duration.

Capturing Stranded Cold

Cold-chain has at its heart the concept of temperature control. This elicits many other requirements, some which are needed to counter the side effects of such thermal regulation. Yet, refrigeration is a primary need and this places a demand for energy, sometimes an inordinate amount, which is converted into the desired thermal change. Usually, the most common form of energy used is electrical, which in turn runs refrigeration equipment.

The highest energy load is from compressing a refrigerant, which is later expanded in the evaporator to affect the cooling experience. Electricity is available from our grid – thermal or hydel, from solar incidence, wind power, from fuel cells, fuel powered turbines and generators. This electricity can also be stored in rechargeable cells or batteries. Cold too can be stored!
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The majority of energy expended goes into managing the refrigerant, expansion of which causes cooling. If a cold fluid can be accessed, without recourse to refrigeration, the entire energy load would drastically come down.

One cool energy source is geothermal water – underground water from deep wells are normally around 22°C to 24°C all through the year (temperature of groundwater is generally equal to the mean air temperature above the land surface. It usually stays within a narrow range year-round).

MAP and ODP glossary

imageModified Atmospheric Packaging (MAP) involves passive self-inducement of atmospheric parameters inside any enclosed package. Such specialised packaging exploits advantages of the normal respiratory activity of living fruits and vegetables which cause a change to air composition inside an enclosed pack [much like in a plastic film placed around our head]. The packaging material is designed with semi-permeable material so as to allow a minimal exchange of gases and oxygen with outside air, as a way of keeping the fresh food alive, yet extending its shelf life. MAP does not work to the exclusion of temperature control and both must be used hand-in-hand. Temperature control reduces the respiration rates to a level that can be safely handled by the MAP film or bag.

Food security breach… and bridging it

WhatWhereCold-chain infrastructure pieces comprise a physical bridge that enables the farm-to-fork flow of food. How does one correctly evaluate the infrastructure capacity needs of a cold-chain?

Only with access to relevant information and only with clear understanding of what comprises the total cold-chain. Unfortunately, such assessments in the past have related to one sole component, the cold store. The most commonly quoted capacity gap was assessed in 2010, where that report stated that the country (India) needed creating another 37 million metric tons in storage capacity.

That 2010 analysis assumed that all infrastructure created, continued to be operational, irrespective of technology or ageing. The assessment did not resort to first hand data on the existing usable and available capacity in the country. As a mere desk review of statistics, with the existing capacity not ascertained, the gap mentioned served purpose at a very basic level only.

Sort yourself out, Grade yourself in

Sorting and Grading are commonly spoken of as one activity - in the persihable trade. But where lies the difference and where lies the finesse... lets try and understand the discriminating differences!
 

Sorting: the activity at source when produce is assorted into target lots basis qualitative criteria – as non-edible, as reject or dump, by quality, by shelf life, by market value, etc. This sorting activity is the first step that brings the concept of value to fore. Essentially, this is the first stage categorisation of received produce and separates them into differentiated value-based flow towards an ascertained and useful end-use.

Preserve and protect, Extend and connect - apply sensibly


Essentially, the cold-chain is tasked with two underlying functions - to “Preserve and Protect” and to “Extend and Connect”. Let us explore these two distinctions and by understanding them, the approach to cold-chain development may merit certain changes.

First, let us clearly differentiate the type of products that benefit from the cold-chain.

In further simplifying, we can consider two extremes from a choice of product types... ice cream and fresh mangoes. The first symbolises the frozen (< -18 °C) segment and the other is from the mild chill (10-20 °C) segment. In the case of ice cream, the cold-chain functions to preserve the product, and in the case of mangoes the cold-chain serves to extend its prevailing, but short saleable life.

APO Cold-chain Workshop

Talking Points at Asian Productivity Organisation Workshop in New Delhi - co-hosted by National Productivity Council and NCCD.

- As you are aware, all raw food is sourced at harvest – be it livestock, fish, dairy, agriculture or horticulture. In India, a largely vegetarian country, horticulture is a major source of high value food.

- Horticultural produce (which is primarily perishable in nature), intrinsically requires the integration of activities during its post-harvest life cycle. Any breach in the required set of activities, results in loss of the produce – physically or in its value realisation.

- These losses cannot merely be attributed to a short life cycle due to the lack of temperature controlled logistics. A major cause of food loss also stems from flawed handling - poor hygiene practices, packaging not suitable to the distances the produce has to travel, bottlenecks and delays due to multilayered transactions.