This year, with the scourge of COVID-19 devastating the health of people around the world, it is not surprising that the day generates awareness across the world regarding and food security and nutritious diets.

World Food Day 2020 received the importance it deserves. The day was focused to highlight food and agriculture as an important part of the COVID-19 response. Hence, the theme of World Food Day 2020 was: “Grow, nourish, sustain. Together. Our actions are our future.”

Various events were organized on this day. At the FAO, headquartered in Rome, programmes on a large scale were organised. These mainly focused on the attention towards food supply. Some UN Organisations and universities organised symposia, conferences, workshops, presentations on topics like food production, distribution, and security.

food-wastage-numberThis year people were urged to celebrate with those who produce, plant, harvest, fish, or transport our food and call on the public to thank these #FoodHeroes who, no matter the circumstances, continue to provide food to their communities and beyond – helping to grow, nourish and sustain our world. Everyone was requested to use digital platforms to make others aware of the day and its importance.

 For us in India, with diverse cultures and traditions, some families distributed food to the needy and poor. Employees in private companies and government organisations voluntarily donated a day’s salary. The collected amount would be utilised at the time of natural calamities, disasters, etc.

Food waste is an issue of importance to global food security and the environment. But what many of us do not realise is that it impacts a country’s economy as well. Every day, food suitable for human consumption is wasted in large quantities in medium and high-income countries at the retail and consumer level. In fact, significant food loss and waste occur at the production to processing stages in the food supply chain in low-income countries.

It is generally believed that Indians do not waste food but data shows that India wastes as much food as the whole of United Kingdom consumes. In fact, food wastage is an alarming issue in India and our streets, garbage bins and landfills provide sufficient evidence to prove this. According to the United Nations Development Programme, up to 40 per cent of the food produced in India is wasted and about 21 million tonnes of wheat are wasted annually.

During the nationwide lockdown, for example, there was high wastage because of a poor supply chain. Food delivery website MilkBasket lost 15,000 litres of milk and 10,000 kg of vegetables in a single day after delivery agents were denied entry in societies due to lockdown. Farmers in Belagavi district of Karnataka spilt thousands of litres of milk in a river after they could not reach the people due to the lockdown. News items showed how much food was wasted.

Most importantly, while having food is something to celebrate with friends and family, very few seem to be consciously aware of the amount of food that is wasted. The food that is wasted in our households, society, country and the world is not small. However, the fact is not understood by us who have food readily available whenever we feel hungry. For people who are not even able to eat one meal a day, the wasted food could satisfy their hunger on a daily basis.

Food Wastage not only leads to negative environmental impact but also causes economic loss. According to an FAO report, approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. The economic costs of this food wastage are substantial and amount to about $1 trillion each year.

However, the hidden costs of food wastage extend much further. In addition to the $1 trillion of economic costs per year, environmental costs reach around $700 billion and social costs around $900 billion.

Other than the wastage, with the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an urgent need to tackle malnutrition so that our population is healthy and immune to diseases. The UN’s State of Food Security and Nutrition reported that last year 21 per cent of children under 5 were stunted, 6.9 per cent were too thin and 5.6 per cent overweight. While dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, India has also addressed increased levels of malnourishment, especially amongst children below the age of five years. Malnutrition caused 69 per cent of deaths of children below the age of five in India, according to a UNICEF report.

Poor nutrition carries a significant economic burden for individuals and entire economies. To take the necessary steps in solving this crisis, there must be an awareness of the various factors of malnutrition in the country. High levels of maternal undernutrition, leading to low birth-weights have caused the inter-generational cycle of under-nutrition that prevails in most communities.