Where are the managers?

A recent report has highlighted what has been known for a long time – that large quantities of food are being wasted in processing, transport, supermarkets and in people’s kitchens. More than enough food is being produced to feed the entire world – the bottleneck lies in distribution. “Farmers have to supply food to take care of both our necessary consumption and our wasteful habits,” says the report produced by SIWI, FAO and IWMI.

Since agriculture takes up most of the available water in the world, waste of food also implies that enormous amounts of water are being wasted. “The magnitude of food and water losses is large enough that we must pay close attention,” warns the report. The losses are taking place at a time when 1.2 billion people, most of them in Asia, do not have enough water to meet all their needs.

In fact, the food and water wastages are riding on top of an assortment of other wastages such as land, energy, fertilisers and even man-hours!  With half of the world’s population living in urban areas, and the need for more land to build apartments, malls, office buildings and parking lots, it does not make sense to continue this wasteful use of arable land.

Growing food on a large scale requires the use of fertilisers and pesticides, and these are becoming more expensive. Oil prices are mounting with no end in sight. Energy is required for everything, be it for operating tractors or running irrigation pumps or transporting harvested grains for processing and selling. It is baffling that governments around the world are allowing all these resources to go waste by watching on as 30 to 50% of the world’s food gets thrown away.

Producing food only to waste it seems to be a norm, whether in developing or developed countries. “In developing countries, most losses occur at the beginning of the food chain: in the field due to poor harvesting technologies, and as a result of poor storage and transport facilities,” says the SIWI report. In hot and humid regions, the losses in food especially due to deterioration in quality are more, which is the case in regions like India.

On the other hand, developed countries seem to specialise in wasting food at the end of the food chain – in wholesaling, retailing, and in homes and restaurants. Food in these countries is discarded even if it is perfectly good to eat, informs the report.

Renowned thinker Prof Asit Biswas maintains that if there is a water crisis, it is not because of physical scarcity of water but because of improper management. In the last several decades, there has been an explosive managerial boom – an MBA is a professional degree coveted like no other, and more books on management seem to be published than on any other subject. Supply chain management and logistics management are subjects that have been around for a long time, and theories for managing the flow of goods, information and resources between the point of origin and the point of consumption should be in a highly evolved state by now.

Clearly, the world’s resources need to advertise for the positions of some good managers.

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