Rethinking Food Miles for Sustainable Supply Chains

Authored By : Srinidhi Rao

How much of the food you eat today is locally produced? How much will travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles before it reaches your plate?

When it comes to food lifecycle, the distance it travels from farm to plate (commonly referred to as Food Miles) has a significant share of carbon footprint. The ‘Buy Local’ food movement, with the goal of consuming food produced and grown locally, has been gaining traction in recent years as a way of eating fresh and high-quality food and reducing one’s environmental impact at the same time.

The greater the distance the food travels, more is the energy spent on transportation resulting in more CO2 emissions. These emissions have a significant impact on air quality and contribute to global warming. Simply put, the more the food travels, the more greenhouse gases (GHGs) it contributes to, which directly impacts climate change.

The exact environmental impact also depends on the means of transport used. Cargo ships are the most efficient, followed by trains, then trucks, and lastly airplanes. That means a product flown from Chicago to San Francisco has a significantly larger carbon footprint than one shipped thousands of miles away from India to San Francisco.

Reducing Food Miles has its benefits:

Fresh produce contains more nutrients

The quality and nutritional value of Agri produce can be affected by maximized handling, storage at improper temperatures, and rough transport. So, the closer you are to the source of produce, the more nutritional it will be.

Less travel means a safer food supply

Less transportation and handling also means less chances of contamination throughout the supply chain ensuring safe and hygienic food.

Reduces food wastage

Food wastage is a tragic waste of resources, and has a large and damaging impact on climate change. Food wastage alone causes 10% of GHG emissions. Rotting food generates methane which over the long term has 28 times more global warming potential as compared to CO2.

India’s cold chain challenge

The United Nations (UN) estimates that more than 40% of food produced in India is wasted before it reaches the consumer. Keeping perishables fresh during transit is a challenge in India’s diverse weather.

One of the major reasons for food wastage is the lack of an efficient cold chain infrastructure that includes refrigerated transport, pack houses, collection centers, and cold storage.

To reduce food loss, strengthen food security, and improve rural livelihoods, India must close the logistical gap between farm and fork. Cold chain inefficiencies are responsible for up to half of post-harvest food losses in the country. A more effective cold chain would bring farmers closer to consumers, assuring them of fairer prices and access to new markets. Moreover, the optimization of the supply chain of perishables can ensure the reduction in food wastage and better utilization of the food stock.

Making sustainable cold chains a reality in India was envisaged in the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) that highlights the missing elements of the cold chain, which would be key to reducing food loss. The missing elements include ripening chambers, refrigerated transport, and rural packhouses – organized facilities where farmers’ produce is aggregated, pre-cooled, and packed. According to ICAP, India needs over 125,000 rural packhouses against 500 packhouses that we have today.

There is an urgent need for improving supply chain efficiency and an innovative analytics-led platform to intelligently connect farmers to consumers with reduced Food Miles, minimum wastage, and better returns.

Rethinking Food Miles for a cold chain deficit India

Realizing that India still has a long way to go to achieve a cohesive cold chain infrastructure, WayCool has taken the initiative of rethinking Food Miles by infusing new-age technologies like AI, ML, and Advanced Robotics at multiple stages of the Agri supply chain.

From identifying and recreating environments to grow exotic produce closer to its collection and distribution centers, to electrifying its delivery fleet, WayCool has succeeded in reducing greenhouse gas emissions of over 35 tonnes per vehicle per year. Add to it our automated distribution centers that minimize human handling, and thereby reduce food wastage, and you get food that is not only fresh but also hygienic and safe.

Here’s a short video of how we are reducing Food Miles, the WayCool way.