Reducing food waste through innovation can play an important role in eliminating hunger and malnutrition as the world looks beyond the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis, Professor Jaideep Prabhu of Cambridge Judge Business School said on a webinar organised by the Akshaya Patra Foundation UK, which focuses on classroom hunger and educational access in India.
The Foundation’s CEO, Bhawani Singh Shekhawat, asked on the World Hunger Day event why we still have hunger today and what can we do to tackle the problem to ensure a better future.
Jaideep, whose research has often focused on frugal innovation, or doing more with less resource, suggested three possible solutions:
Food waste: Around a third of fruit and vegetables is wasted in India and a similar amount of processed food is wasted in Western countries. Focusing on the food we already have and finding frugal solutions to reduce waste would be a big step forward.
Organisations: Social enterprises and other firms can make a big difference by focusing on issues such as food waste, using their collective power to tackle the issue.
Innovation: When you have an organisation focusing on a particular problem using the technology and assets they have today, then innovation follows and you get a solution.
“A good example of a social enterprise that has focussed on frugal innovation around improving nutrition and health outcomes is the Bangladeshi NGO BRAC which according to some estimates is the world’s largest NGO. Another example is Akshaya Patra itself which has focussed on innovation around how to deliver quality food to large numbers of school children in India and elsewhere,” said Jaideep Prabhu, Jawaharlal Nehru Professor of Indian Business & Enterprise at Cambridge Judge.
He said nutrition is a big part of education; for example, a midday meal in schools could reduce hunger. “Now is a good time for people to learn about nutrition as families are cooking more at home during the pandemic lockdown,” Jaideep says. “We should all think about well-being in general, and food is an important part of this.”
Professor Prabhu says that in addition to governments, companies and especially those producing food should be more involved in nutrition. For example, if a company is selling sweetened water or juice why can’t they sell healthy food instead? Governments could intervene with taxes or regulation to push private companies to switch to more nutritious food options.
Other panellists on the webinar included Vidya Balan, an Indian actress and philanthropist, who highlighted the problem of hunger in countries like India. She said everyone can do something to change the world – even if it’s a small gesture affecting just one person.
Dr Anant Jani, Honorary Fellow at the University of Oxford, said malnutrition is a critical risk factor in illness and death globally and is linked to around 30 per cent of all deaths in young children. A report on COVID-19 by the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative found that malnourishment, lack of access to clean water and no access to cooking fuel are the main three risk factors. “Looking at these factors we have an increased susceptibility to coronavirus, but according to the report there’s also a longer-term issue of acute malnutrition that drive children and families into the poverty trap,” he said.
Dr Jani shared estimates by the World Food Programme that said because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the closing of schools, around 370 million children worldwide do not have access to nutritious food. In the UK alone there were around three million children who missed school meals during the first weeks of lockdown. He said governments can make a difference by subsidising school meals during and beyond the pandemic.