How Technology Can End Hunger in India

In October, the world commemorates Food Day. A great time for us in India to look back at what we produce, how we consume, and what we waste. Waste? Oh yes, we do. Did you know, a whopping 40 percent of the food produced in India is wasted? According to data by the Food Processing Ministry of India (August 2016) the country loses $13 billion worth of food each year due to deficient storage, poor logistics, and inadequate planning, communication and collaboration[1]. This is a colossal waste when one considers that almost 270 million people live below the poverty line in India, and that millions could have been fed for a whole year with the amount wasted.

Technology across the country is being leveraged towards increasing food production, but obviously not enough is being done towards creating, building, and maintaining the infrastructure needed to store, transport, distribute, and minimize wastage of this food. Thus we have a scenario wherein hundreds of millions are unable to access food even while vegetables, fruit, and grain is being eaten by rodents, destroyed by weather and insects, and rots due to inadequate storage. The current scenario also allows food prices to stay inflated, and causes an average Indian to spend 40% of their income on food.[2]

India is moving towards becoming a digital economy. It has significant experience, technical skills, revenue, and policy thrust. Can these be harnessed to develop the technological superstructure around the food supply chain and logistics industry?

The answer is a definitive yes.

The country already has experience creating large technology infrastructure such as the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) that implemented the Aadhar card (akin to a social security number that allows an individual to access government facilities, and for the first time creates a digital footprint of every citizen), and the GSTN (Goods and Services Tax Network), which implemented the GST (Goods and Services Tax) — a unified service tax for the whole country.

As a large country, India produces a huge variety of foods across regions and seasons, and with the government being a major buyer and distributor of this food, blockchain could be harnessed to collect and store data regarding production, transportation, warehousing, and delivery of this food. Data from blockchain could enable us to understand what is being produced where, the quantity and quality, the season of production, how it is being produced, and more. Blockchain could also help us develop a nuanced understanding of storage, and when and where the demand is coming from. It could help us understand transportation, and logistics, and give us visibility into last-mile delivery, right down to the final consumer and pricing. Imagine the transparency and visibility into the food supply chain.

The Internet of Things powered by sensors could enable us to gather more data- in fact, far more reliable data as food products move from farm to fork. Fish, meat and a host of products are already being tracked via the IoT and blockchain in many countries, imagine what it could do for us in India, if every consignment on every truck, freight train and shipping container could be tracked in real-time. Besides reducing wastage, I think it would mean better quality food reaching the consumer faster and less malnourishment and hunger.

A natural progression from blockchain and the IoT would be artificial intelligence. Millions of data points could enable machines to learn, locate patterns, and come back to us with intelligence on the exact point at which the temperature is most likely to drop while the food is in transit and thus compromise the quality, and the fastest and most cost-effective way in which a consignment could be transported. It could help the government rationalize supply against demand and regulate prices. The government could know when to store grain and when to distribute it, how much to distribute, and anticipate where.

As the population of India continues to grow, streamlining the food supply chain is an imperative for India. What we need is the vision, and a strong will — to end hunger, food wastage, and plug leakages. For far too long have people of this country suffered from want even while millions of tons of food could have been consumed fresh or even canned.