In a country where as much as 60 per cent of the population of over 180 million is either food insecure or downright malnourished, it is horrifying to know that an estimated 40 to 50 per cent of potential and actual food is lost or wasted each year. According to information just released by the Agriculture Extension Wing of Punjab, these massive losses of fresh foodstuff occur due to climate related issues, pests, diseases, inefficient harvesting practices, lack of correct storage and improper packing during transportation. Additionally, unhygienic home storage conditions and massive wastage of cooked food in many middle and upper income bracket households also contribute, including the excessive wastage of food at events such as weddings.
The criminality of the situation — especially that of post-harvest losses — and the deplorable wastage of cooked food is unforgivable, both countrywide and even worldwide. Food insecurity is an ever-expanding and a very real concern and steps need to be taken to rectify the situation on a national level. Such steps are not expensive on the whole but largely revolve around educating people about the basics of food transportation, storage and preparation of ‘reasonable’ amounts of food rather than the excessive amounts that are frequently served up. Other steps, such as refrigerated transport and increased cold storage facilities are undeniably costly but all things considered, the aforementioned steps are imperative with uncontrolled population expansion — even though the cost of these essential services will, as usual, be passed on to those who can ill-afford to pay. While the latter is a catch-22 situation, the availability of fresh food must take preeminence over a serious lack of the same. It would be hoped that measures resulting in more fresh food being made available by reducing losses in transport and storage would, at least in part, assist in keeping prices relatively stable.
At the same time, ensuring national food security should no longer be left to inefficient governments and the often exploited agricultural community, which makes up the country’s backbone. Growing food should also be the responsibility of homeowners, factories, schools, hospitals, universities and other entities currently wasting both time and precious water on maintaining ‘lush green lawns’ which, from one end of the country to the other, should be outright banned. Instead, these lawns should be replaced with orchards and vegetable gardens from which everyone and everything, including the environment — as long as organic principles are strictly adhered to — will benefit.
The same applies to the much-touted monsoon tree planting campaigns that currently concentrate on planting mostly ornamental plants, some of which are even imported and not indigenous species. There is a need to focus on planting fruit producing trees with each species selected specially for each region’s local climatic conditions. This will serve as a way of increasing long-term food security for every single person in the country.
Introducing across-the-board measures to reduce food wastage whilst boosting food production is the need of the hour and everyone needs to play a role in this.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2012.
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