In an effort to stem food wastage, supermarket giants, in December 2012 the government invited Tesco and Walmart into India, in an effort to introduce efficient logistical systems that will reduce food spoilage.

In India, the system for transporting food from the farm to the consumer is primitive.  Stored in unrefrigerated warehouses and storage rooms, food rots or is spoiled by pests. It is hoped that the big supermarkets will introduce modern facilities to eliminate this wastage.

In a report released in 2012, Josephine Gustafsson and Jan Lundqvist, claim that “investments in improved storage, transport and cooling infrastructure are important as is increasing producers’ access to food processing, packaging and markets, i.e. beyond the local ones.” The report suggests that current losses are as high as 40 percent. This is a criminal waste of food with so many mouths to feed.  Losses also drive up prices, which makes food less the affordable made worse by increases in world food prices in 2010 and 2011.  The poor everywhere have suffered, India being no exception.

But will the entry of multinationals really help?  Not according to agriculture policy analyst, Devinder Sharma, who argues that India will not benefit.  He points out that the US is little better, as food wastage is hovering around 40 percent, no different than it is in India.  He rightly points out that:

If US superstores are unable to reduce wastage of fruits and vegetables in America, I wonder how we can expect these companies to take care of food wastage in India. Ask a vegetable hawker roaming in the streets of India and he will teach you how not to waste food. Nothing is wasted by vegetable hawkers who have no sophisticated technology to store perishables.

While Sharma paints a much too rosy picture of the current situation in India and there is room for improvement, this proposal is not the answer. Large supermarkets will only service the new middleclass, which is where the profits lie.  This is a small section of the Indian market and will not significantly reduce food wastage.

The other flaw is that once the supermarkets have developed relationships with farmers, they will soon become dependent on a small number of outlets for their produce.  Elsewhere in the world, where this has happened, the supermarkets have ruthlessly squeezed producers on price.  Eventually, they will force small farmers to sell out to transnational agribusinesses.  In India, with so much employment dependent on farming, this will cause  misery, as they are forced off the land.

Don’t expect too many changes quickly.  Parliament may have loosened the rules, but they have left it up to the states to decide whether they will allow foreign supermarkets in their market.  Many of the larger states, such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, which are ruled by opposition parties and Congress allies who are against organized retail, have refused to entertain proposals by the global retailers. Only nine states, including several smaller states like Delhi, Indian-administered Kashmir, Assam, Manipur and Uttarakhand, support the move.

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