The term “food systems” refers to all the elements and activities related to producing and consuming food and their effects, including economic, health and environmental outcomes. Today, food systems globally are facing the challenge of food security and nutrition for a growing population and farmer livelihood, which needs to be tackled in a sustainable manner. A very important sector of concern when we talk about food and nutrition security is horticulture. Fruits and vegetables form a significant portion of our diets and have a sizeable contribution towards the everyday micro and macronutrient requirement.

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Owing to its varied climatic conditions, India is a rich source of biodiversity. There is an abundance of horticultural products in the country and it ranks second in fruits and vegetables production in the world, after China. During 2021-22, India produced 107.24 million MT of fruits and 204.84 million MT of vegetables (1). The journey from farm to table, also called post-harvest management, is complex and depends on a lot of factors. It is estimated that about one-third of the food produced is lost globally before reaching the consumer, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year (2).

Food Loss and Waste (FLW), which may be due to various reasons such as environmental, poor handling or mechanical damage hits the economy drastically. For reference, Food and Agriculture Organization’s (2014) “Global Initiative on FLW Reduction” defines food loss as the decrease in mass or quality attributes of food throughout the food supply chain (FSC). The term “food loss and waste” is used by FAO to emphasize the waste component of food loss, its distinct drivers and solutions (2).

The grand challenge of sustainability and its economic, environmental and social impacts are not new to food systems globally. For this, circular economy paradigm can open new avenues for post-harvest management (3). Growing population, environmental issues of increasing pollution, proliferating signs of resource depletion and social vulnerabilities are some of the tall challenges that the policy makers are constantly confronting. Therefore, to address these pressing concerns, circular economy has emerged as a concept of interest (4).

Circular economy (CE) is a regenerative system in which resource input and waste, emission and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing and narrowing material and energy loops. This can be achieved through long lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing and recycling (4). Use of this concept strategically to tackle unsustainable practices in the post-harvest management of fruits and vegetables may present an advanced approach to manage the perennial issues of sustainability and food and nutrition security. Before moving ahead, it is important to understand the basic principles (5) behind CE:
1. First is to ‘design out’ waste. The notion of ‘reuse’ is strongly imbibed at core of circularity.
2. Secondly, a strict differentiation between consumable and durable components of a product. Consumables are largely the non-toxic biological ingredients that can safely return to biosphere, whereas durables are materials like metals and plastics that are unfit for safe degradation in the environment. The durables are designed from the start for reuse.
3. Lastly, the renewable nature of the source of energy used to sustain this cycle. This helps to reduce the dependence on resources.

Integration of CE principles in post-harvest management of fruits and vegetables is the need of the hour.

1. Technological solutions

All the post-harvest operations such as harvesting, handling, packing, storage and hygiene should make use of sustainable intensification (6). A lot of food is wasted due to contamination and spoilage. Technological interventions to provide temperature-controlled environment throughout the supply chain should be of priority (2). Evaporative coolers, energy-efficient refrigeration systems in combination with State-of-the-Art sustainable storage systems like thermal energy systems can be used.

Transportation system form the backbone of the entire supply chain. An overall system of improved transportation with energy efficient modes that support fresh produce as well as processed commodities is needed.

2. Behavioural solutions

Consumer education forms an integral part of the overall solution. Consumers need to be vigilant while purchasing a food product, such as checking manufacturing and best before dates and consuming accordingly. At home, storage and cooking practices should be aimed at minimal wastage, while optimizing energy consumption and portion control (2). Educating children right from the start, public-private partnerships for awareness campaigns and advertisements can ascertain waves of change in the long run.

3. Policy interventions

Strong public policies that encompass the pace of constantly evolving human needs and environmental concerns are needed. Some of the recommendations are as below (2):
• Taxes and subsidies should be planned in a manner that wastage in consumption is minimized both at manufacturer as well as consumer end;
• Financial support in terms of infrastructure for right handling, minimal processing, incubation centres and robust cold chain is required;
• Policy interventions and support are also needed to accelerate research and development aimed at creating systems that are more economical and environmentally sustainable;
• It is also imperative to generate sufficient regional data so that policies can be framed according to the nuances specific to the region. At the same time, harmonization of standards should also be done to facilitate cross-border trade.

The food production is surplus today, but the world is facing the triple burden of malnutrition. Efforts should be channelled towards linking the areas of surplus production with the areas of mass consumption. CE practices must form an integral part of the approach to tackle FLW to create solutions that are long-lasting and sustainable. There is a dire need to focus research on this. While policy interventions play a significant role in the area, it is imperative for all the stakeholders to make efforts towards creating a sustainable and resilient food system.



2. Vilariño, M.V., Franco, C. and Quarrington, C., 2017. Food loss and waste reduction as an integral part of a circular economy. Frontiers in environmental science, 5, p.21.

3. Velasco-Muñoz, J.F., Aznar-Sánchez, J.A., López-Felices, B. and Román-Sánchez, I.M., 2022. Circular economy in agriculture. An analysis of the state of research based on the life cycle. Sustainable Production and Consumption.

4. Geissdoerfer, M., Savaget, P., Bocken, N.M. and Hultink, E.J., 2017. The Circular Economy–A new sustainability paradigm? Journal of cleaner production, 143, pp.757-768.

5. MacArthur, E., 2013. Towards the circular economy. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 2(1), pp.23-44.

6. El-Ramady, H.R., Domokos-Szabolcsy, É., Abdalla, N.A., Taha, H.S. and Fári, M., 2015. Postharvest management of fruits and vegetables storage. Sustainable Agriculture Reviews: Volume 15, pp.65-152.

About the Author:
Suvansha Nigam
Food Safety & Regulatory Affairs Specialist


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An editor by day & dreamer at night; passionately involved with both print and digital media; Pet lover; Solo traveller.

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