The world is far from perfect and many challenges are clamoring to be solved. A problem that should be the number one priority is food-waste management.
According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization report, one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted. That amounts to a huge 1.3 billion tonnes per year. On the other side as per the Food Aid Foundation, 795 million people go hungry and undernourished. That comes to 12.9% of the world population.
When we talk about innovation and changing the status quo, can these glaring numbers be ignored?
The distance between the produce and the consumers is a prime reason behind a significant amount of food wastage. Agriculture is a rural activity and requires open farms for cultivating the crops. But consumers are clustered in cities.
Sometimes crop yield must travel 1000s of kilometers before arriving at the retail shelves. Food is a perishable item and a significant portion becomes unfit for consumption before reaching the destination. Refrigerated vehicles was an excellent innovation to deal with this problem. But refrigeration in movement is a costly proposition and not affordable for developing and third-world countries. Ironically, they need it the most.
To solve this issue, startups are shifting farm activities closer to the consumers.
Innovative Solution 1: Hydroponics
We always assumed that farming needs land and open farms. But 21st-century startups are challenging this assumption. They are using hydroponics farming which does not need soil.
These indoor hydroponic farms are established closer to the city centers. The nutrients are fed to the developing crop through trickling water rich with nourishment. That's why the name, hydroponics. In the total absence of sunlight, the light is provided by LED bulbs.
This technique requires only a fraction of water, about 5% compared to the traditional farming methods. Startups companies like 'Aerofarm' and 'Plenty' are also using technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data science to enhance productivity and the crop yield. These crops are also healthier and enriched with more nutrition.
Innovative Solution 2: Food Tracking
Many times food takes more time to reach the destination than planned. It can be due to vehicle failure, bad weather, or even local strikes and other reasons.
Hydroponics is in its early days. Its share in the world food today is minuscule. A large amount of crops and foods perish in the transit. To solve this problem, the innovators are applying Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, or RFID technology.
This technology is used for tracking apparel inventory in the fashion industry. Airlines use these RFID tags to track luggage. Now it is adapted to track the food in inventory and transit.
With RFID tags we know where the food is. We can decide if it will reach the destination in consumable form or not. If the transit takes a longer time then planned, food journey may be curtailed. The food can be sold in the local grocery markets at a reduced cost, or we can share it with the needy people.
Innovation Solution 3: Robin Hood Army.
Not all food problems can be solved by technology alone. We need the heart too. And that's where Robin Hood Army, headquartered in Delhi India shines.
They connect excess food in restaurants and the hungry people in close localities. It is a nonprofit organization, run by volunteers. Mostly students. Robin Hood Army is present in over 100 cities in India.
We can say, finally, food-waste is under the radar now and entrepreneurs are working hard, pushing the boundaries to solve this acute problem.