Harnessing the natural defence systems of fruit and vegetables to extend their shelf life
Every step of the food production process generates greenhouse gas emissions; but not many of us are aware of how much damage food waste does to the environment, causing up to 10% of our global emissions.
One-third of the food we produce globally is never eaten, with the financial cost of this wastage estimated $2.6 trillion per year. The environmental impact may be even higher over the long-term. Food that ends up in landfill generates methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas, while reducing food waste has the potential to draw 87 gigatonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere.
In India, the issue of wasted food is particularly acute, largely due to the need to transport and store food at ambient temperatures because, unlike in developed countries, cold storage is not widely available. India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world behind China, but 40% of its produce is lost before it even reaches consumers. This incurs significant costs for the Indian economy, contributes significantly to global emissions, and does nothing to improve the lives of the 14% of people in the country who are undernourished.
The founders of GreenPod Labs, an agri-biotech company based in Chennai, south-east India, believe this is a preventable problem and have come up with a solution that can increase the shelf life of produce by up to 60%. It produces sachets made of non-woven, gas-permeable membranes that are packed alongside the fresh produce during transportation and storage. The sachets contain 8-12 bioactive ingredients – specific to the particular crop – in powder form. These activate the built-in defence mechanisms in the fruits and vegetables, a bit like the way the human immune system responds to outside stresses. The process slows down the ripening rate and minimises microbial growth that contributes to rot.
GreenPod Labs has completed products for three crops, with two more in the pipeline. It hopes to scale its business to include Africa and other countries in Asia, a welcome solution in regions where food security is already an issue, and climate change increasingly disrupts supply chains.