While throwing away the Jambalaya at the dorms or expired milk from your refrigerator, has it ever occurred to you that the food you did not consume could have quite possibly been deemed unfit for consumption, long before it even reaches your plate or house? In an ideal world, our food system would be 100% efficient, meaning all the food that is produced would also be consumed. However, that is not the reality, as about one third of the food produced in the world is lost in various stages after harvest and before it reaches the shelves of grocery stores. This statistic is particularly alarming, considering the growing world population and dwindling resources.
Is anyone working to fix this global pattern of Post Harvest Loss and food waste?
To answer these questions, the GO talked to Dr. Prasanta Kalita. Dr. Kalita is not only the head faculty of the Soil and Water Resources Engineering division in the Agricultural and Biological Engineering department at the U of I, but is also the Director of the Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Institute of Postharvest Loss prevention at the University. The ADM institute held the first-of its-kind International Postharvest Loss Congress in Rome in October.
Dr. Kalita’s answers are edited for clarity and brevity.
GO: What are the various types of losses that are encountered and some of the reasons why they occur?
DK: There are losses in every stage, right from when the crop is harvested to transportation to storage and they are present in all processes that the crop goes through before it reaches a stage where it can be consumed. In developing countries, losses boil down to lack of technology and infrastructure. For example, for harvesting corn, many developing countries do not have machinery and use sickles instead. During transportation of crops, the roads and trucks may not be of adequate quality and during storage, the storage area may not be fully insulated, pest and rodent free.
GO: Could you talk a bit about the Congress and your role in it?
DK: In 2014 when I first started working as the director of the ADM institute, I attended a meeting of various renowned institutes around the globe. At this meeting, it was very clear that Post Harvest Loss (PHL) was an important issue that had to be tackled, although it was not at all clear what efforts had been taken around the world to prevent PHL. We did not know who was doing what. I suggested an International Conference where people involved with PHL prevention could come together and discuss their research as well as gain a valuable network base.
GO: So what was the impact of this Congress?
DK: I think the main achievement of the conference was the participation of various different groups for the first time, which included not only academics and researchers but also outreach organizations, funding agencies and governments. We are developing a consensus-based roadmap for the global population and everyone at the conference agreed that the main aim was to reduce PHL as much as possible by 2050, when there would not be enough food to feed the 9.5 billion humans. The goal is to track the losses for a period of every 5 years from 2015-2050 and to achieve a particular reduction in losses for every successive period in the most sustainable manner possible.We have provided an opportunity for people to connect with each other. If someone needs information pertaining to PHL they know they can approach the ADM institute whereas this was not the case earlier. The next Congress is planned to be held in 2017.
GO: So is this a huge problem in the United States?.
DK: Not really, but post harvest waste is a huge problem. The amount of food which we throw away or which is not consumed before the expiration date is immense! There is definitely a need to not take food production for granted because in another part of the world the food is not even readily available and here we are wasting the food. As this is a global issue, participation of developed nations is very important and the more awareness we can create about PHL, the better. That is why a group of students also accompanied us and helped us setup the Congress. Student participation is crucial and highly encouraged because let’s face it, they are the future.