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The Farm-to-Fork Challenge

If food security is a titanic crisis plaguing the society, in tandem, we have food waste causing just the same level of havoc.

Here are some staggering facts:

1. Almost 2 bowls of food per day per person gets thrown out.

2. Belgium has the most food waste and the Philippines the least. And by least, we mean around 2000 tons of food being discarded every single day in the capital city of the Philippines, Manila alone. The saddest part? One in every 3 Filipinos lives below the poverty line.

3. In America alone, a whopping 50-75 billion pounds of food goes into the trash every year.

4. In India, we throw away food worth approximately Rs 250 Crores every single day. This is when almost two-thirds of the population of India lives in poverty.

5. It is estimated that all of India’s food wastes can feed the entire state of Bihar for a year.

6. 30 percent of the food produced globally is lost annually.

Yes, we agree, these facts are pretty hard to digest. But let’s try to decipher the cause behind these appalling numbers.

The major reason behind food waste is simple – overbuying, which then culminates in a basic supply and demand fiasco. Lack of proper prediction of consumer demand leaves restaurants buying more than what is required. This, in turn, paves way for the next snag – spoilage. Food, being a perishable resource due to its limited shelf life ends up going sour.

Other contributors to this stumbling block are the technical hiccups, poor inventory management, and the lack of adequate infrastructure in the supply chain - in storing, processing, packaging, and transporting food. This precarious situation is often a common sight in developing countries. The loss of food from farm-to-fork is estimated to be around 14 percent of the total food wastage. Addressing just this part of food wastage could end global hunger.

These alarming insights have led to the recent surge in the number of startups with an aim of lowering food waste. One such startup in France called Phenix seeks to curb food wastage by selling excess food to food banks and charitable agencies and by connecting retailers with the animal feed industry, food banks, and charitable organizations, via a mobile app. In developed countries like France, the major factors leading to food wastage is due to disruption in the supply chain process. Phenix helps connect all the stakeholders present in the supply chain – from food producers to retailers to the final consumers. They have partnered with giants like Carrefour and Coca-Cola on their journey towards achieving zero waste. Since its inception, Phenix claims to have saved close to 100 million meals.

Another startup Apeel Sciences aims at increasing the shelf life of fresh food, making some products last almost twice as long. This they do, using biomaterials present in the peel or skin of the fruit/vegetables, infusing it with further protection enhancing traits, using their patented process. FDA approved and marked safe, this coating is invisible and leaves no effect on the taste of the product. This protective seal delays the rate of oxidation and helps in retaining the moisture content of the fruit/vegetable, thereby extending the time the product can live its life. This also provides retailers with incredible cost-saving opportunities, as they can buy in bulk and stock up the produce for a longer duration, which in turn brings in sustainability.

MatSmart, a Swedish startup, since its origination has helped prevent waste of food amounting to almost 4000 tons of food in 2018. It buys food with small packaging defects or food that is too close to their best before date, which will not find a place on the shelves at any retail store, and sells them online. The best before date is often confused with the expiry date, which leads to the product being thrown away. However, the best before date is only the producer’s promise that the product keeps the same quality as when it was packaged. No aspect of the product likely changes after the best before date. These products, which would have been discarded in a retail store, when sold online are twice as likely to be purchased by consumers.

Further, sales forecasting and demand prediction applications for restaurants have the potential to transform inventory management and in turn, can reduce food wastage. Using data, these applications can provide customer insights and predict the trends in food ordering and consumption, thereby keeping the restaurants equipped to face what's in store for them. They factor in various parameters like the weather, holidays, thereby enhancing decision making in every aspect of restaurant management.

Also, China recently has started the Clean Plate Campaign, to create awareness around this mammoth crisis. This campaign has been brought into the picture after Covid-19 and the recent floods have left China slightly leaning towards the spectrum of food shortage. This has left restaurants coming up with innovative ways to curb food wastage. Some restaurants now offer smaller sized portions, some have set a threshold on how much food diners can order, to ensure minimal food wastage and some even offer discounts to diners who manage to show them a clean plate.

While a lot is going on to address the issue of food wastage, a baby step from our end most certainly has the power to create a rippling effect. Simple easy things like keeping track of the food bought, cautious buying, and just planning ahead can sure go a long way!


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